All of the images and videos on this page were shot using the new EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM kit lens. ISO 100, 1/1250 sec, F5.6. Shot at 18mm.

The Canon EOS 80D is an enthusiast-level DSLR geared toward photographers looking for a capable stills and video camera. The 80D sports a brand new 24MP APS-C sensor, a 3" articulating touchscreen, a new 45-point AF system (with dual pixel AF) and 1080/60p video capture capabilities. Like its predecessor, the camera has a weather-sealed construction and a nearly-identical body design.

I had the opportunity to test the 80D having just finished field testing the Sony a6300, a mirrorless camera which also sports a 24MP APS-C sensor and a similar launch price. On paper, the a6300 out-specs the 80D in many categories, like 4K video capture, 11 fps shooting and most notably, its 425-point AF system. But don't fall into the trap of thinking specs alone make the a6300 a better camera. In hand, it feels as if you're holding a small magnesium rectangle jam-packed with cutting-edge technology, but to some degree, the operation and menus feel like a work in progress. In contrast, holding the 80D feels like you're holding the product of 20+ years of R&D. Which is to say: the 80D feels more refined in operation and more intuitive to use than the a6300.

Of course there are also quite a lot of other APS-C sensor cameras on the market that fall into a similar price range and class to the 80D. Its closest DSLR competitor is most likely the Nikon D7200 (though the Pentax K-3 II also comes to mind). Both the Nikon and the Canon offer very similar still and video specifications, though the D7200 does not have a touchscreen, nor does it offer an equivalent to Canon's dual pixel AF. There's also the EOS 7D Mark II, Canon's top tier APS-C camera. It offers features generally associated with more pro-level cameras like Intelligent Tracking and Recognition (which the 80D does not). And while the 7D Mark II is priced higher than the 80D, it is interesting to note that the 80D uses a newer sensor that we've found offers much better dynamic range than previous Canon cameras, including the 7D II.

General camera ergonomics

The 80D is very easy to operate with a single hand. The grip is extremely comfortable, and at 1.8 lbs, the 80D shouldn't break your back. I do have few small frustrations though: the AF-on button is located next to two other identically-sized buttons and is the most difficult, at least for me, to hit of the three. I also find the switch to lock the back control wheel, which by default is set to Exposure Compensation, can be bumped into the lock position far too easily. In fact, every single time I went to adjust my Exposure Comp., it was locked.

The 80D has an articulating touchscreen, which I used to frame this shot. ISO 100, 1/200 sec, F10. Shot at 24mm.

Finally, I've found that the video record start/stop button isn't quite as sensitive as it should be. I actually missed a few clips because I hit the start button, thinking capture had begun, when in fact it had not.

Of course, it is much easier and quicker to point out frustrations in a camera's ergonomics, than list everything the company did right. Overall the 80D is a well-designed camera with terrific ergonomics, sensibly-organized menus, and mostly-logical button placement. And unlike most mirrorless cameras, the battery life on the 80D is frankly, a breath of fresh air. A whole day of shooting stills and video (about 700 stills, and 35 videos, most about 30 secs in length) resulted in only a 1/4 drain on the battery.

Dynamic range

Canon's large-sensor cameras are not exactly known for their dynamic range. Pushing the exposure on a Canon Raw file even a couple stops (or just turning on vignetting correction) can result in the shadow detail starting to fall apart. But the 80D uses a spanking new sensor that supposedly offers better dynamic range than past Canon release. But does it?

Yes it does! We ran the 80D through our exposure latitude and raw dynamic test and found that the new sensor is substantially better than previous Canon sensor in terms of dynamic range. It's not quite on the same level as the Nikon D7200 or other cameras using recent Sony APS-C Sony sensors, but the improvement is definitely something to cheer about if you're a Canon shooter.

Original exposure, gently edited in ACR. ISO 100 1/500 sec at F16. Exposure pushed +2.5 stops, Shadows pulled up +50 in Adobe Camera Raw.

The silhouetted image above on the left was processed through Adobe Camera Raw without adjusting the exposure, while the image on the right was pushed a full 2.5 stops. Have a look specifically at the areas in the image on the right that were previously in the shadows. While this isn't a perfect example, it should give you an idea of what kind of dynamic range the 80D offers.


In the demo above, I used AF-C and selected an AF point in the center of the frame. Hunting is minimal as I move from subject to subject and acquisition is reasonably fast. Click to download this clip (13 secs, 43.7MB).

It is very easy to shoot nice-looking video with the 80D. The touchscreen is an absolute pleasure for selecting focus points, and Dual Pixel AF allows for continuous focus during video capture. In use, it is excellent, with minimal to no hunting and fast acquisition. When using the widest AF area option, called 'Auto selection: 45 pt AF,' the camera will automatically look for faces in the scene and focus on them. If it finds no face, it will instead focus on the nearest object.

Video quality looks decent. It can't touch the quality of footage coming from the likes of the a6300, but for most enthusiast shooters, the quality will be good enough. And the inclusion of both a mic and headphone jack should add to the camera's video appeal.

Video shot hand-held in 1080/60p. Click to download this clip (16 secs, 119.2MB).

Unfortunately, several video making tools that seem to be par for the course when it comes to other manufacturers, are absent in the 80D, specifically: Focus peaking, zebra stripes and a clean-HDMI out option. There is also no C-Log gamma option (a very flat tone curve useful for color grading).

Auto ISO

This was shot after I pushed the 80D's Auto ISO minimum shutter speed default to its fastest setting. Out of the box, when using Auto ISO, the 80D offers a shutter speed about equivalent to 1 over the focal length. However, in the menus, there is a slider to bias the minimum shutter speed by 1, 2 or 3 stops above default (as well as 1,2 and 3 stops below the default). You can also assign a physical shutter speed number to be the camera's default. ISO 100, 1/400 sec, F7.1. Shot at 135mm.

The default Auto ISO shutter speed often was not fast enough for the scenarios I was shooting. At one point while field testing the camera, a humming bird flew right up to me and hovered mid air for long enough for me to bring the camera to my eye and fire a shot. Unfortunately, the 80D decided that 1/200 sec was the most appropriate shutter speed. Needless to say, the resulting shot was blurred.

Canon has recently been updating its Auto ISO implementations to make them fully programmable (a la Nikon and now Sony), and it's great to see this update in the 80D. You have two ways to control your minimum shutter speed when using Auto ISO. You can either pick a physical shutter speed, ranging in full stops, or use a slider to bias the default shutter speed to faster or slower than the default. If you use Auto ISO, I strongly recommend the first thing you do when picking up the 80D is push the shutter default to a faster setting.

AF features

Shot using touch-to-focus. ISO 100, 1/200 sec, F5.6. Shot at 50mm. Cropped in slightly using ACR.

The Canon 80D features a brand new AF system and an increase in AF points over its predecessor, from 19 to 45. Coverage area has also been improved, and all of the points are cross-type. One of the most note-worthy features of the 80D's AF system comes in Live View, which now offers continuous AF (called AI Servo). It is only the second Canon camera to do this (the Rebel T6s was the first), but the 80D's Dual Pixel AF is far more capable than the Hybrid AF system found on the T6s. This feature can be used during still or video shooting and should prove especially useful on the video end. That said, we're also hopeful that it can be used to reliably subject track in stills mode as well (initial impressions are positive, but more on that below).

The 80D's touchscreen has both touch-to-shoot and touch-to-focus capabilities. In use, the touchscreen is just OK - its operation can be a bit laggy, especially if you are trying to quickly move your AF point. The camera does have a sensitivity slider, but even adjusting it to its most sensitive setting doesn't seem to help the lagginess much. 

I was disappointed to find out that the touchscreen can not be used as an AF track pad when one's eye is to the finder. Many camera companies have been including this feature (like Olympus in the PEN F and Panasonic in the GX8, and Nikon in the D5500) and it is extremely useful. A missed opportunity on Canon's part for sure. To be fair, the 4-way controller on the back of the camera can be assigned to direct AF point selection (but it's mushy and not well-positioned for quick thumb access with your eye to the finder). You can also use the AF Point Selection button, though I found it frustrating to use when shooting with a single AF point.

I also discovered that there is no way to use touch-to-shoot in continuous drive. Even if you have the camera set to continuous drive, it will simply ignore your selection and default to single frame advance mode (the use cases for this may be limited, but I did find myself in a scenario where touch-to-shoot + burst would have been helpful). In general, I found that using the FlexiZone-Single option, while tapping to specify the area, gave me the best results when using both touch-to-shoot and touch-to-focus.

AF real world impressions

Continuous AF (AI Servo) using a single point gave me the best hit rate, as long as kept my point over the subject. ISO 100 1/500 sec, at F8 (I probably should have used a faster shutter speed).

My initial impressions of the 80D's AF capabilities are largely positive. I shot quite a bit using the camera in AI Servo mode using either a single point or the Zone AF area mode, with mostly excellent results. Zone AF can sometimes get confused as to which point(s) to use to stay on your subject, so single point is still most reliable. Subject tracking is particularly limited compared to the EOS 7D Mark II, the company's priciest APS-C offering, because the 80D lacks Canon's Intelligent Tracking and Recognition. Still, I wanted to get some real impressions of advanced subject tracking ability, so I set AF area to the entire frame (Multi-Area AF) with a manually selected initial point - where the camera automatically moves the initial AF point throughout the entire grid to stick to an initially targeted subject, no matter where it moves to within the frame.

When shooting with one's eye to the finder, the 80D isn't great at staying on a subject once it has been identified. This is partly due to the fact that being a DSLR, the 80D cannot not use its image sensor to track (except in Live View mode of course) and likely does not use its metering sensor, which is essentially a low resolution image sensor, either. Although I got lousy results in my initial tests, subject tracking in viewfinder mode is somewhat case specific and has the potential to work well for subjects on non-complex backgrounds, and particularly subjects well isolated in depth (distance) at longer focal lengths.

On the other hand, my experience trying subject tracking in Live View mode was much more positive. When using the touch LCD to subject track, one can simply tap the screen to identify a subject. I had the chance to use this method while shooting candids of friends. The 80D did a great job staying on a subject once identified, which isn't very surprising: using the image sensor to identify, understand, and track your subject is more reliable than using only distance information to subject track. Furthermore, if you do not tap the screen to identify a subject right off the bat, the camera will settle for the nearest face it finds (as long as you're in Face + Tracking mode).

Of course, using Live View (the touchscreen) to shoot a burst means you only get the stop-action-style playback of images when firing, which can make it difficult to follow your subject.

Also shot using AI Servo, this one using the Zone AF area, placed in the center of the frame. Overall I found using a single point gave me better results when using continuous focus. For the record, the little guy was cruising real fast! I saw him coming down the sidewalk out of the corner of my eye, and only had time to snap two frames; the first was a little blurry, the second (shown here) was sharp. ISO 100, 1/500 sec, F7.1. Shot at 135mm.

Of course, continuous AF and subject tracking aren't the only things that matters in an autofocus system, sensitivity is also important. Canon states the 80D's center AF point is sensitive down to -3EV, which should translate to responsive AF performance using the center point, even in very low light. I ran a quick test in our studio to see if this was the case. Using the EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens, and with all lights off except for a dimmed incandescent bulb, I pointed the 80D at out studio test chart. But not before first switching the lens to MF and throwing focus way off (I then switched it back to AF before shooting). With my eye to the finder, I acquired focus and fired a frame. I did this several times at both the wide end and the tele end of the lens' zoom range. In both cases, the 80D was able to acquire accurate focus nearly instantaneously, which is impressive, especially considering the F5.6 max aperture at the tele end.

And to give you a sense of how dim the above scenario was, when I was testing the low light AF performance at the kit lens' widest end, I was shooting at ISO 16,000, at 1/30 sec F3.5, which gave me a proper exposure. This is good news for low light shooters, like myself. I'm especially fond of music photography and its encouraging to know that the AF system will perform, even in some of the lowest light scenarios the camera is probably capable of shooting an image in. For instance, with a 24mm F1.4 lens attached, I should be able to shoot at ISO 12,800 1/100 sec F1.4 while still enjoying accurate and responsive AF performance (well, as long as I've microadjusted).

The takeaway

It can be hard to get excited about enthusiast level DSLR updates. But in the case of the 80D, enough has been improved upon over its predecessor that while looking nearly identical, the 80D truly is a whole new camera (not just a granular update).

It offers reasonable specs, an easy-to-use interface (the touchscreen adds quite a bit to the camera's ease of use) and a familiar design. Toss in the fact that it offers maybe the best dynamic range of any Canon DSLR to date, and the 80D has even more appeal. For Canon system users, specifically enthusiasts considering an upgrade from either a Rebel or an older camera, there is an awful lot to like about the 80D.

ISO 12,800 is a pretty high ISO, especially for an APS-C camera. This images was processed through ACR, but I'm fairly impressed with how good the high ISO image quality appears to be. But more testing is needed! ISO 12,800, 1/60 sec, F4. Shot at 27mm.

Canon EOS 80D Sample Gallery

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Canon EOS 80D real world samples

61 images • Posted on Mar 24, 2016 • View album
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