Live view & Touchscreen

Shot using live view and touch-to-focus. ISO 6400, 1/200 sec at F5. Edited to taste in ACR.

The 80D has one of the most tempting live view feature sets of any DSLR to date. Like its predecessor, the 80D a has Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor, but unlike any other Canon camera, dual-pixel AF on the 80D functions in continuous (AI Servo) mode for stills shooting.

The user interface in live view is unchanged from the 70D, and should look familiar to anyone who has used a touch-enabled Canon DSLR before. Even if you haven't previously used a touch-sensitive Canon, the interface is very straightforward.

And while the ability to use continuous autofocus in live view may not seem all that revolutionary to mirrorless camera owners, successful continuous focus in live view + a touchscreen is a pretty big deal. There are not a whole lot of APS-C cameras on the market that offer both (RIP Samsung NX1), and none in the full frame segment.

Using the touchscreen as a shutter

I love touch-to-shoot functionality. It may not be the purist's way of shooting street photography or capturing candid moments, but when coupled with the articulating screen, the feature makes it really easy to go unnoticed and get your shot. Of course, the touch-shutter can be useful for other scenarios too, such as when shooting at tough angles. 

I also like the fact that switching between the touch-shutter and touch-to-focus requires simply tapping the icon visible in the bottom left of the screen. But a note of caution: the 80D tends to act unpredictably if you use touch-shutter in the Face+Tracking mode (explained below). 

AF Modes in live view (using the touchscreen to focus)

This is the live view Quick menu for still capture (very similar to the video Q menu). Options along the left side include: AF method, AF operation, Drive mode, Metering mode and image quality/size. Along the right, options include: a return button, White Balance, Picture Style, an Auto Lighting Optimizer toggle and a Creative Filter option. Simply tap on the screen to call up any of the above. 

When using autofocus in live view (for stills or video) the 80D has an entirely different set of AF options compared to through the viewfinder shooting, all of which will sound familiar to users of Canon's PowerShot line, but may prove a bit jarring to DSLR shooters switching from viewfinder to live view shooting. The AF modes are Face+Tracking, FlexiZone-Multi and FlexiZone-Single, which you can see across the bottom of the screen in the screenshot above. 

For focusing on a specific point, the FlexiZone-Single mode is quite useful; providing accurate, precise acquisition. The single points aren't very small though, which may affect your ability isolate focus to a small object. The Face+Tracking mode is also very handy. It automatically finds the nearest face (or if no face, the nearest subject) to the camera. In single shot AF mode, it will lock focus on that subject or face, and in continuous AF mode it will track it, albeit using a rather large zone of 9 AF points. You can also override the automatic subject selection by tapping the screen on the subject or face of choice, in which case a smaller AF box tracks your subject.

The FlexiZone-Multi option can be a bit confusing. If you switch to this mode and depress the shutter half-way, it acts exactly like Face+Tracking without face detection, selecting a 9-point zone and then, in AI Servo, shifting it - across the entire frame if needs be - to stick with what the camera thinks is your subject. If you tap the screen though, or press the SET button, you effectively shift the camera into a Zone focus mode where the entire frame is not used to track your subject in Servo. Instead, you preselect the desired zone of 9 points, and then the camera only uses the 9 AF points within this zone to stick to your subject if it moves.

We found ourselves mostly using Face+Tracking in AI Servo, and tapping our subject when we wanted to specify exactly what we wanted in focus, then having the camera automatically track it if it moved, or if we recomposed. This works both in stills and video shooting. Although we didn't find FlexiZone-Multi too useful, it can be handy if you know your subject will generally be in one portion of the frame, but don't, or can't, necessarily specify exactly what that subject is by tapping it in Face+Tracking mode.

Continuous AF (AI Servo) usage in live view

When using Face+Tracking, tap the screen to identify a subject to track. Hit the "Set" button to reset tracking. ISO 100, 1/500 sec at F8. Shot using the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM at 95mm.

The 80D can use continuous autofocus (AI Servo) during live view shooting. In the FlexiZone-Single (and Multi mode), you simply tap the touchscreen, and the 80D honors the point/zone you've selected, attempting to maintain continuous focus on that point (or cluster of points when using Multi). In practice, FlexiZone-Single does quite well, but Multi can get confused, presumably because of the large focus area. 

When using continuous AF in the Face+Tracking mode, tapping the screen indicates to the camera a subject you'd like to follow and maintain focus on. Once you've done that, the 80D will attempt to follow your subject if it moves around within the frame, or if you recompose. 

When shooting close-up subjects, especially people, the 80D's Face+Tracking mode works great, as long as they're not moving too fast. However it is less useful when shooting distant subjects that appear small in the frame - the system's just not precise enough. Shooting a burst in live view can also prove difficult due to a stop-motion playback of images as opposed to a live feed, which can make it difficult to follow a moving subject. In addition, the burst rate drops to 3.6 fps when shooting in live view, compared to 7 fps during through the viewfinder shooting.

The EOS 80D is good at finding, locking and maintaining focus on faces in both video and live view still mode. Shot using Canon's 16-35mm F4 wide open at F4.

The Face+Tracking mode works the same in video mode as it does in stills mode. While the above video is a bit exaggerated, if should give you a sense of the camera's ability to track a subject's face around the frame and maintain focus as their distance to the camera continually changes. It's not perfect, but it does a great job keeping up. Although it does occasionally drift out of focus, it usually re-finds focus in a controlled manner, never jump or fluttering in a distracting manner and never getting completely confused or hunting around. If your subject's not too small, Face+Tracking works great for video, and for single shots of moving subjects.

When tracking subjects at a distance, the 80D's Face+Tracking mode is much more easily confused than when tracking nearer subjects that appear larger in the frame. This is not too surprising, as larger objects are easier to detect. Fast moving subjects also give dual-pixel AF a hard time, as the system isn't particularly fast at tracking a subject around the frame. Performance also drops during bursts. In our example above, focus actually shifted backward as our rider approached, only catching up by shot #13, before losing our rider again.

The above example was shot using a 70-200mm F2.8L lens at 125mm, tapping our biker to indicate our subject (not his face).