Canon EOS 80D Digital Camera Review
Quickest AF in the west.
There is no such thing as a camera that's perfect for everyone.
But that doesn't stop camera companies from trying to chase this idea, and Canon's the latest to try. Adding the EOS 80D ($1,199 body-only) to its APS-C stable, Canon is finally offering an accessible and fairly complete solution for videographers and hobbyists alike.
The new 80D takes everything that was great about the EOS 70D and runs with it. The 70D was a big hit among students and videographers because despite its lack of a headphone jack because it was a credible prosumer option when it was released.
Dual-pixel AF is back and better than ever, while the 80D also offers more ports than the old workhorse. But a lack of advancement, 4K video, and some performance quirks may sour some buyers on the camera.
Design & Handling
If it ain't broke...
Fans of Canon's previous EOS 70D will love the 80D, if only because the camera doesn't really rock the boat all that much with wild design changes. Canon took as much as they could from the EOS 70D and brought it back for the 80D—the weathersealing, the deep grip, the familiar interface, all of it. However, a new 24-megapixel sensor and a brand-new AF system belie the appearance that everything is the same.
Canon definitely listened to the gripes of its customers and re-tooled their APS-C powerhouse to meet the needs of videographers. Namely, you no longer have to shell out for an EOS 6D if you want a headphone jack—it's right near the microphone jack on the EOS 80D.
Canon also made some tweaks here and there to improve the user experience. For example, the gapless coating on the LCD reduces glare considerably, and even an addition so minor as an NFC target on the side meets Android users. Who wants to futz with pairing the camera over WiFi? It's a hassle most of the time.
The control scheme of the 80D is remarkably straightforward, and very easy to pick up even if you've never shot with a Canon camera before. With several shooting modes available with the twist of the mode dial, the EOS 80D meets its users at just about any skill level. The menu system can be a little daunting, but it's not as Byzantine as other camera menus out there.
Taking the mantle of Canon's mid-range APS-C camera means there are some pretty big expectations, but Canon has finally let its reluctance to innovate drag its top-end product line underwater. In a world steaming toward UHD video—where even Nikon is expanding to 4K in its APS-C DSLRs—Canon just will not (or can not) offer UHD shooting in its camera bodies, and that's a problem for the prosumer marketplace.
Performance-wise, the Canon EOS 80D has a lot to offer the right type of user, but very little for the wrong one. While Canon's an industry giant, the latest DSLR to bear their name is better for those who like to dabble in both video and stills—and not prosumer applications or students.
I say this, because the weak link of the whole product is the sensor's pixel size. By cramming in 24+ million pixels onto a smallish sensor size, the 80D's sharpness will go down once you stop down past f/5.8—though videographers and portrait shooters won't really notice or care that much.
But aside from the lack of 4K video, that's really the only albatross around the neck of the Canon EOS 80D—the rest of the performance points are top-notch. Despite the quirks of the camera's hardware, it's buoyed by strong performance in pretty much any area that isn't resolution related.
Despite being fairly low-res, the 1080p video shot by the 80D is top-notch because you can bump the framerate up to 60fps for more natural-looking motion. Additionally, Canon's flicker reduction—a feature that helps your video combat issues with flickering lights—works well with this camera.
Color performance is decent, and most accurate when used with the "Fine Detail" preset. If something isn't to your liking, you can nudge the software sharpness, contrast, color saturation, and color tone—but the default profile is pretty good for most applications. If you really want finer control of your shots, shooting in RAW affords you extreme flexibility in post.
Action shooters will appreciate the EOS 80D's 6.67fps continuous shooting speed, as the camera has all the right hardware behind it to handle long periods of burst shooting—even if you use RAW+JPG. The 80D also works well with on-lens IS, which is fantastic for video and taking the quick snap in poor lighting conditions. Given the decent-to-good dynamic range of the camera, you can plan on nudging your snaps by about two stops before image quality suffers irretrievably.
As comfortable as Canon gets
To give this camera a workout, I headed out on what I thought was going to be a fair-weather day. Thought being the key word here.
Walking through Cambridge to the Boston Common, I was able to grab some decent sample photos and video—the choppy clouds offering some periods of mixed hard and soft light. Using both the kit lens and the affordably priced EF 50mm f/1.8 STM, I was able get some decent shots without too much trouble. Canon's control scheme is very forgiving, and even though I'm more used to having my control wheels at my fingertips, I wasn't changing apertures very often.
But then it hailed. I was immediately thankful for the EOS 80D's weather sealing because the mixture of ice and water pelting the both of us would have killed a non-sealed camera. I thought I was in the clear after the first band of hail forcing me under the bridge in the public gardens, but once I made it to the seafront I was pelted again. While I was able to shield the camera from the worst of it, at least I didn't have to panic once the sky got dark.
Videography is much easier than I thought it'd be—though you'd do well to be sure you have all the equipment you need. A tripod, gimbal, and stabilized lens goes a long way to making better clips, but for this review I went hand-held only. Perhaps it's a bad habit of mine, but I definitely miss shooting in 4K and downscaling to eliminate camera shake.
Not a company to mess with a good thing, Canon brought back the dual-pixel AF on the 80D, but with a substantial upgrade. Instead of leaning on 19 focus points like the EOS 70D, the 80D has 45 AF areas on the sensor—which Canon boasts offers better low-light performance.
I will say that the touch-to-focus and servo-AF work wonders when shooting video. Not only is that improved dual-pixel AF quick, but it's dead-accurate too. Of course, you can always use the manual focus too if you want, and the kit lens of the 80D can be used with the PZ-E1 Power Zoom Adapter for smoother lens operation.
Subject tracking is hit or miss, but to be completely fair, it's a damn sight better than any other camera I've ever shot with. I've uploaded a sample above with a few examples. Anyways, I've slowed it down to 1/2 speed and let the servo AF track each moving subject. Obviously, this could have been better done, but remember: it was hand-held only.
I found myself using the touch-to-focus and the articulating screen a lot more often than I thought I would. Partially because I'm not accustomed to it on my own cameras, but mostly because taking photos at extreme angles is much easier with this sort of feature. It's great for sidestepping crowds, structures, and other obstacles.
Great videographer's tool
If you're an amateur or even a pro videographer, the Canon EOS 80D is a great tool for the job. While it's definitely going to show its age a lot faster than its competitors, the camera stands on its own—it's competent, complete, and it makes the Canon EOS 7D Mark II nearly obsolete.
However, this isn't the camera for everyone. There are plenty of options out there to satisfy diverse needs, and this isn't the one you want for 4K or professional video. That's not exactly a dealbreaker for most, but it's something to consider.
Taken on its own merit, the EOS 80D is great for sports photographers, videographers, and anyone looking from a step-up from a Rebel DSLR. It's a good camera: it performs well, it's got all of Canon's best features, and is compatible with Canon's more professional accessories. But it's behind the times, and that's tough to swallow if you want to use your camera for a long time to come.
You can get more in other systems if you're not already invested in the Canon lens system. For example, other mirrorless cameras typically have somewhat less expensive lenses, and 4K capabilities as you can read about in our Panasonic Lumix GX85 review, and our Sony a6300 review. There's lot of options to consider, but if you're looking for a video camera, we like the Panasonic Lumix GH4 better than the 80D.
However, Canon's got their lens library on lock, and you'll probably not find a more diverse selection out there. You'll never find yourself wanting for options, and your main hindrance to getting an upgrade is your wallet.
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