Canon EOS 80D review: A solid upgrade but not much more

The EOS 80D is the latest model in Canon’s enthusiast line of cameras. It’s a step up from the consumer-oriented EOS 750D and 760D, with a bigger viewfinder, more physical controls, a weather sealed body, longer battery life, faster performance and more sophisticated autofocus. It isn’t as feature-packed, or as expensive, as Canon’s top-of-the-range cropped-sensor SLR, the 7D Mark II. However, unless you’re shooting sports or wildlife you probably don’t need the 7D Mark II’s 10fps burst speed and 65-point autofocus. The 80D is designed for photography enthusiasts who want something capable and dependable while leaving enough in the budget for some decent lenses.

Improvements over its predecessor, the Canon EOS 70D, are mostly on the inside. The main imaging sensor is up from 20 to 24 megapixels. The autofocus sensor has been upgraded from 19 to 45 points, all of which are cross-type for increased sensitivity. Exposure metering is more sophisticated, with a 7,560-pixel full-colour sensor replacing the 70D’s 63-zone sensor.  The camera’s 1080p video capture is now at frame rates of up to 60fps and there’s a headphone socket for monitoring soundtracks.

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From the outside, it’s virtually indistinguishable from the 70D, but that’s no bad thing. The generous allocation of buttons give quick access to ISO speed, metering, drive mode and autofocus functions, and the Set button can be assigned to white balance. An AF-On button means autofocus and shutter release can be controlled independently, avoiding unnecessary refocusing.

The 3in articulated touchscreen speeds up menu navigation and makes light work of moving the autofocus point in live view mode. However, the 80D hasn’t inherited the 750D’s ability to move the autofocus point via the touchscreen while composing shots on the viewfinder — a slightly counter-intuitive feature but one that I find much quicker than pressing the four-way pad.

It’s not the only time when I found the controls a little disappointing. The passive LCD screen on the top of the camera is welcome but I’d have liked changes to drive, metering and autofocus modes to be shown through the viewfinder, too. To be fair, the Nikon D7200 has the same limitation. You’d have to spend more and opt for the Canon EOS 7D Mk II to see more information through the viewfinder.

The move from 19 to 45 autofocus points bodes well for subject tracking, but Canon hasn’t included its Intelligent Tracking and Recognition system here. I had to root around in the Custom Function menus to get tracking autofocus working. Having done so, I wasn’t bowled over by its effectiveness. This is an area where Nikon SLRs often take the lead, and the D7200 is way ahead of the EOS 80D in this respect.

As with the EOS 70D, the 80D’s sensor uses a technology called Dual Pixel Autofocus to improve autofocus times in live view mode. It worked well on the 70D but, for reasons that weren’t entirely obvious, the 70D’s live view mode still took over two seconds between shots.

The 80D has got this down to 1.1 seconds, which is still pretty slow compared to the 0.3 seconds it takes when using the viewfinder, but a big improvement nonetheless. Burst shooting with continuous autofocus is now available in live view mode, at a respectable 5fps. Switching to the viewfinder, it was just shy of its 7fps published speed. It kept going until the card was full of JPEGs, and lasted for 20 RAW frames before slowing. These are strong results that should satisfy all but the most demanding action photographers.

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