Introduction and features
The new 80D, which replaces the 70D launched in July 2013, sits smack in the middle of Canon’s SLR line-up, above the 760D and below the 7D Mark II. That puts it in prime enthusiast territory which means it needs to appeal to people who want to shoot a range of subjects in a variety of conditions. These users also want an extensive feature set with plenty of control options, but they don’t need a full-on professional-grade camera.
Canon has given the 80D a new 24-million-pixel sensor along with a Digic 6 processing engine. This may sound similar to the 24Mp 750D and 760D, but these lower-level cameras have Hybrid AF III devices, not the Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor of the 80D.
The 80D’s sensor and processor combination brings a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-16,000 (a third of a stop higher than the 70D) and a maximum expansion value of ISO 25,600 (the same as the 70D). And while the maximum continuous shooting rate is the same as the 70D’s at 7fps, the burst depth has been increased to 110 JPEGs or 25 raw files when a UHS-1 SD card is used. That’s a significant step up from the 65 JPEG or 16 raw files possible with the 70D.
Modern SLRs have two autofocus systems, one for when using the camera conventionally and composing images in the viewfinder (i.e. in reflex mode) and the second for use in Live View and video mode. Canon has improved both of these systems for the 80D in comparison with the 70D. The reflex mode system, for instance, has 45 AF points, all of which are cross-type whereas the 70D has 19 points. This means the new camera has better AF point coverage making it more able to find and follow subjects around the frame. Furthermore, all of the points are cross-type with lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or greater while the central 27 operate at f/8 and 9 of them are cross-type at f/8. That’s good news for anyone using telephoto lens/teleconverter combinations that reduce the maximum aperture to f/8. The 80D can also use colour information from the 7560-pixel RGB+IR (infrared) metering sensor to help with subject tracking.
Turning to the Live View and video autofocus system, the 80D uses Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology like the 70D, which means it has phase detection points on the imaging sensor itself. According to Canon the new system is more sensitive and faster than the one in the 70D, but because fast autofocusing often isn’t desirable when you’re shooting video, it’s possible to vary the speed of the 80D’s system over 7 steps for slower focus changes.
Although the 80D lacks one of the most in-vogue video features – 4K recording – it improves upon the 70D’s video offering with a headphone port for audio monitoring and the ability to record Full HD (1980 x 1020) footage at 50fps for 2x slow-motion playback. Like the 70D, the 80D also has an external mic port (volume can be adjusted manually in-camera) as well as HDMI Mini and A/V Digital out terminals. Plus the 80D can record in MOV or MP4 format whereas the 70D can only shoot in MOV format. Canon’s excellent Video snapshot feature is also on hand to help create more dynamic short films in-camera.
Canon got onboard with Wi-Fi connectivity in its cameras relatively early on and it’s now starting to include NFC (Near Field Communication) in new models – including the 80D. This enables the camera to be connected to an NFC enabled smartphone or tablet, the Canon Connect Station CS100 or other Canon cameras with just a tap.
As well as enabling images to be shared quickly to the Internet this connectivity allows the camera to be controlled remotely using Canon’s free app. Furthermore, if the new EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens is mounted and used with the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1 announced at the same time, the app can be used to zoom the lens from one focal length to another.
Canon introduced its Anti-flicker system with the 7D Mark II to help produce predictable exposure and colour when shooting under a light source that is prone to flickering (for example fluorescent light). This clever technology, which detects the frequency of the flicker and times shots so that they are taken when the impact on exposure and colour is minimal, has now made it into the 80D.
Another point worthy of note is that like the 5DS/R and 1DX Mark II, the 80D has Ambience priority and White priority options for the automatic white balance system. Using the Ambience priority setting produces images that retain some of the colour created by the lighting whereas the White priority setting is intended to remove the colour cast.
Build and handling
As the 70D’s form and control layout was met with general approval, and to ensure an easy upgrade path for 70D users, Canon hasn’t changed much for the 80D.
Although it’s not quite as big as the 5D Mark III, when my index finger is poised over the shutter release there’s enough room to accommodate rest of the fingers of my right hand on the 80D’s grip. Those with large hands, however, may find it more comfortable to slip their little finger beneath the grip.
The majority of the button controls are located on the right side of the camera, either on the back or the top-plate and are within easy reach as you hold the camera for use. Some, like the AF, Drive and Metering buttons, are designed for use in conjunction with the Main Dial or Quick Control Dial while you look at the secondary LCD screen on the camera’s top-plate rather than through the viewfinder. It’s a tried and tested approach that works well, but many will find the touch-control afforded by the main screen on the back of the camera more intuitive to use.
Unlike some other manufacturers, Canon gives touch-control over both the main and Quick Menus and it can really speed up use. It also makes light work of scrolling through images and setting AF point or tripping the shutter in Live View mode.
The Quick Menu is very useful, providing a speedy route to some of the most commonly used features. It would be nice, however, if this was customisable as it is on the 1DX Mark II so that it only contained those features that you use on a frequent basis. Some photographers, for example, may never need (or want) to change the file format that they shoot. It would be even better if there were two customisable Quick Menus, one for stills and one for video.
As with Canon’s other touch-enabled SLRs, the touch-control works very well. Menu items can be selected by a tap and options chosen either by a second tap or by using the navigation keys, the mini-joystick or a control dial, whichever you prefer.
While the 3-inch 1,040,000-dot Clear View II screen on the back on the 80D is the same as the one on the 70D, it deserves a mention because it provides a delightfully detailed, crisp view. When the target area is magnified on-screen in Live View mode it makes focusing manually much easier than when using the viewfinder. Its vari-angle hinge also makes the screen very useful when shooting from awkward angles in either landscape or portrait orientation, saving you from crawling around on the ground to get a worm’s eye view. It’s at these times that the ability to set AF point and trip the shutter with a tap on the screen comes into its own.
In bright sunlight, however, it’s necessary to turn the screen’s brightness up to the maximum setting to give a clear view. I found it useful to assign the LCD Brightness control to one of the six customisable My Menu screens so I could access it quickly if necessary. Ideally I would probably assign it to the Quick Menu if that were possible.
Although the 80D’s screen is very good, the viewfinder is still the more natural option for most photographers to use when shooting stills, especially if the subject is moving. This also provides a nice bright view and, unlike the 70D’s viewfinder that only covers 98% of the lens field of view, it covers 100%. That means there are fewer surprises around the edge of the frame when you review your shots.
In an update on the 70D, it’s possible to select Creative Filter mode via the 80D’s mode dial. When this is selected one of 10 filter effects can be applied to JPEG images as they are shot. If you’re shooting raw files or raw and JPEG files, the camera switches automatically to shooting just JPEGs. Although it’s possible to use the Creative Filters when composing images in the viewfinder, their impact can only be previewed on the main screen in Live View mode.
Canon has increased the number of Custom Mode settings accessible via the mode dial from one on the 70D to two on the 80D. This means that you can be shooting with one collection of settings and quickly switch to two alternatives. For instance, you could set one Custom mode to shutter priority with a shutter speed of 1/500sec, auto sensitivity, Natural Picture Style, continuous AF and Continuous Shooting so that if you happen to see some wildlife when you’re out shooting landscapes, you can change all the settings with just a turn of the mode dial.
It’s also possible to assign up to six menu items to each of up to six My Menu tabs. This makes it easier to access some of the more buried functions such as Mirror Lock-up. I found it useful to assign key still features to one tab and video features to another.
In addition, Custom Function III 4 enables you to customise up to nine controls (buttons and dials) to access certain features. I find it helpful to set the navigation control to give a direct means of selecting AF point for instance.
Until recently, Canon had been wedded to using 18Mp sensors in its APS-C format cameras, but the 750D and 760D marked a switch to 24Mp devices. One of the reasons that higher pixel count cameras are so enticing is that they have the potential to capture more detail than a competing lower resolution model.
The potential booby-trap, however, is that because the photoreceptors usually have to be made smaller they generate a weaker image signal that requires more gain to be applied and that can result in more image noise.
The articulating screen is really useful when you want to shot from low angles like this. Click here for a full size version.
Using Landscape Picture Style has helped capture the vivid green of the sunlit grass in this scene. Click here for a full size version.
Despite the very low light the camera was able to focus and noise is controlled well for ISO 16000. Click here for a full size version.
Happily Canon has managed to get the custard pie on the plate rather than in the face. The 80D’s 24.2Mp sensor brings a 25% increase in pixel count over the 70D’s and it enables the new camera to make a significant step up in detail resolution for the majority of the sensitivity range without an increase in the level of noise.
It’s noticeable, however, that at ISO 12,800 the 80D scores lower in our resolution tests than the 70D. However, when the default levels of noise reduction are applied, images shot at this sensitivity setting and ISO 16,000 look good. Noise is controlled well and although some detail is lost, there’s no obvious smearing. I would advise caution with the uppermost setting of ISO 25,600 because some areas have a slight haze and lack detail when images are at around A4 size. But that’s why this value is an expansion setting, Canon makes it available for use if it’s really needed but doesn’t consider the image quality entirely satisfactory.
Canon has given the 80D a significantly better autofocus (AF) system for use with the viewfinder than the 70D, so naturally I was very keen to put it to test. It didn’t disappoint, getting stationary subjects sharp in a flash and keeping fast moving subjects sharp even in low light.
The 80D’s AF system proved up to the job of shooting these fast moving skateboarders. Click here for a full size version.
I experimented with the AF point selection modes when shooting skateboarders in the gloomy conditions of London’s Undercroft and found that the 45-point Automatic Selection option is pretty capable, probably aided by the new colour detection system. Despite the distracting background of graffitied walls, in most cases it managed to correctly identify the subject and follow it as it moved around the frame, getting closer to or further away from the camera.
Single-point AF (Manual selection) mode also worked well provided I could keep the active point over the subject. That’s easier said than done with skateboarders who are prone to jumping, twisting and turning and I had greater success when using Zone AF mode. In this mode the 45 AF points are grouped into nine zones and you to select the most appropriate zone to use before starting to shoot. The camera then tracks the subject using the AF points within that zone, it’s a great option for moving targets and you see the points light-up as they activate, giving you confidence that your images will be sharp. It’s not 100% foolproof but I got a high hit rate and it’s more reliable than 45-point Automatic Selection mode.
Those who want to get more in-depth with the 80D’s AF system will find a total of 16 customisation options within the menu (three more than the 70D) with the ability to adjust tracking sensitivity, acceleration/deceleration tracking and the speed of AF point switching. These can be useful options, but require a good understanding of the subject, the shooting conditions and the ability of the photographer to keep the active AF point over the subject. If you shoot the same subjects on a regular basis they are worth investigating to see if the various settings can increase your hit rate or make life easier.
The Live View and Video mode AF system is also good. It’s fast enough to shoot stills of moving subjects in some situations, but the viewfinder system is more reliable. The Dual Pixel CMOS AF system’s focus shift is smooth enough to be usable when shooting video, but it’s dependent upon the shooting scenario and subject/camera speed. The quality of the video is also high, with good exposure and attractive colours (depending upon the selected Picture Style).
In reflex mode the 80D uses the same metering system as the 750D and 760D which means there’s a 7560-pixel RGB+IR (infrared) sensor and 63-zone Evaluative, Partial, Centre-weighted and Spot metering options. The evaluative system is very good, but the weighting applied to the active AF point can mean you need to use the exposure compensation control in high contrast situations. There’s nothing especially unusual in that. The Centre-Weighted, Partial and Spot options prove their worth with backlit subjects.
The Monochrome Picture Style gives a useful indicator but the best results are created by converting a raw file (below). Click here for a full size version.
When shooting in Live View or video mode the camera uses the imaging sensor to measure exposure and it does a good job. However, if you’ve turned-up the brightness of the screen to cope with bright ambient light, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the histogram view because images may look brighter than they actually are.
The 80D’s white balance system performs as we have come to expect from Canon but it has the addition of the new White and Ambience priority options for the Auto setting. The White Priority setting proved very capable, delivering neutral images in artificial lighting conditions that often cause problems. The Ambient priority option retains a little of the colour cast, which can be preferable in some situations.
Lab tests: Resolution
We put the Canon EOS 80D through our usual set of lab tests to check its performance. We’ve also compared its results with those from three of its key rivals in our comparison charts. The cameras we’ve chosen are:
Nikon D7200: The closest thing to a direct rival from Nikon, the D7200 has a 24-megapixel non-anti-aliased sensor and comparable specs and target user, though with a fixed, non-articulating screen.
Pentax K-S2: Pentax’s rugged all-rounder is good value for money and has features likely to appeal to enthusiast photographers. It’s an interesting alternative to the usual Canon/Nikon debate.
Sony A77 II: Sony’s top APS-C format SLT camera looks like a DSLR but uses a fixed, translucent mirror to offer full-time phase-detection autofocus, even in live view.
We tested all four cameras for resolution using an industry-standard ISO test chart photographed in controlled laboratory conditions. The resolution figures are quoted as line widths/picture height, a new standard measurement which works irrespective of sensor size. All our tests are carried out across a wide ISO range and for both JPEG and raw files.
While much of the buzz in the camera market at the moment centres around mirrorless or compact system models, the Canon 80D typifies the attraction that SLRs can still hold for enthusiast photographers. Its viewfinder may not show images as they will be captured (it cannot take exposure or white balance settings into account for instance), but it has a fast and effective autofocusing system that CSC manufacturers aspire to emulate. It also has a touch-sensitive vari-angle screen that can help with image composition when shooting from all manner of angles, with a secondary AF system that can get subjects sharp quickly in Live View and with varying speed as required in video mode.
Thanks to its 24Mp sensor the 80D captures far more detail than the 70D for most of its sensitivity range and noise is controlled well. Its reflex autofocus system is also extremely capable even in low light and the metering and white balance systems are both reliable. In addition, the camera’s handling is excellent, promoting creative shooting as well as making setting adjustments quick and easy.
Enthusiast photographers want a camera that works for them, that lets them access the most important features quickly and adjust settings effortlessly. The 80D provides a quick route to the most commonly used features and allows a good degree of customisation. As with most other Canon SLRs, the touchscreen is also superbly implemented making using the camera more intuitive. The fact that the screen is on a vari-angle hinge means it can be articulated to give clear view whatever the shooting position, making it far easier to take images from more creative angles.
Enthusiast photographers may wish to take photographs in the same situations as professional photographers, but few are lucky enough to be able to afford the latter’s large aperture telephoto lenses. It’s arguably therefore more important that a camera aimed at enthusiasts is able to focus at apertures commonly found when telephoto lenses are paired with a teleconverter. The 80D has just such a system.
The downside to an advanced autofocus system is that it’s complex and getting the best from it takes some input from the photographer. In more advanced cameras like the 7D Mark II, 5D Mark III and 1DX Mark II, Canon has tried to help with the Case Studies in the AF section of their menu. With the 80D the advanced AF options are more hidden in the Autofocus section of the Custom Function menu. There’s also no in-camera explanation of why you might, for example, vary the Tracking Sensitivity or of the impact of adjusting Acceleration/Deceleration Tracking. While the Case Study examples and explanations can still leave photographers scratching their heads, the approach taken with the 80D makes them even less likely to be used.
While there are quite a few options to customise the 80D’s control system, it could be improved by providing two Quick Menus, one for stills and one for video and making the both customisable.
It’s bigger than the average compact system camera and its viewfinder can’t preview images as they will be captured, but the Canon 80D is an excellent choice of camera for enthusiast photographers. It has a high quality sensor that is able to capture a good level of detail while keeping noise under control and its main autofocus system is super-quick. It’s also a very capable video camera with a variable speed AF system that can be tuned to suit the subject.