Canon's Next Run at the Hybrid DSLR - The 80D

 The just announced Canon 80D

The just announced Canon 80D

I am predominantly a Canon shooter.  I own over a dozen Canon lenses.  I'm not switching anytime soon, but I've also been pretty hard on Canon because the things that matter most to me, well, let's say we don't appear to be really well aligned these days.  One place we definitely align is the criticality of delivering a hybrid platform that hobbyists and enthusiasts can afford and benefit from.  This is XXD space, until this announcement led by the superb Canon 70D.  The 80D is an evolutionary step ahead, so let's see what's coming.

Canon has been pushing the video side of the DSLR for a long time both in body and in lenses and the 80D marks the first iteration of the second generation of Dual Pixel AF.  In general, cameras with mirrors don't do a particularly stellar job of autofocus while shooting video and the Dual Pixel AF that arrived in the 70D and that is now in the 7D Mark II as well as the second generation of Canon's CINE cameras really changed that rule for the better.  Many mirrorless vendors claim constant AF while shooting video, but real world experience has shown this to true but at a very slow rate.  Canon's Dual Pixel AF has been very good.  The new camera promises better and faster.

Part of this is not so much how many AF points there are, but what type of AF points they are and where they are located.  In the 80D, Canon goes to 45 points and all of them are of the cross type.  This is a big deal because it means that every point can do contrast detection in two dimensions.  Non-cross types only do contrast detection in one dimension, typically horizontally.  Cross type provides a platform for greater accuracy but requires more CPU.  Canon has responded by moving to the Digic 6 processor.  Not only does this work to drive focus performance, it also allows for faster image processing.  Is it a lot faster?  Production units will tell but since its the same CPU as in the forthcoming 1Dx Mark II and I have listened to folks who shot that camera, I expect that we will see a performance boost as it has more horsepower figuratively than the Digic 5+ in the 70D.  The focus system will deliver AF down to a maximum aperture of f/8 with most lenses, although the number of active points may drop to 27 on long lenses when Canon teleconverters are used.  There are four primary focus selections, single point, zone consisting of 9 contiguous points, large zone that breaks the focus system into three distinct zones and 45 point auto select.  I never use auto select myself because in my world what gets auto selected is never what I want.  Your mileage may vary.  The Dual Pixel AF design allows each pixel to have two AF sensors and both can do phase difference detection.

 Canon's rotatable and flippable LCD, one of the nicest moveable LCD mechanisms in the market

Canon's rotatable and flippable LCD, one of the nicest moveable LCD mechanisms in the market

The new viewfinder provides nearly 100% coverage and offers a heads up style of information delivery overlaying indicators on top of the image area for focus type, level, aspect ratio and grids. You will be able to control how much information is displayed to suit your preferences.  Some of these new viewfinders can show so much the image is hard to see.  We'll have to see production models to determine how this pans out.

Canon has consistently developed their sensors in house instead of buying sensors from a sensor provider.  This has been both a boon and a detriment.  Canon has gained a reputation for high quality sensors, but ones that are not optimal in dynamic range delivery.  Canon corporate never discloses the dynamic range of their sensors, a mistake in my opinion, because competitors do and tends to focus on megapixel counts instead.  Serious photographers don't get quite so caught up in megapixels, but new buyers may not know better and get caught up in feeds and speeds.

For the 80D, Canon has developed a brand new CMOS sensor delivering 24.2 megapixels.  This is a count increase over the 70D but also comes with a new ISO range of 100-16000 for stills and 100-12800 for video.  ISO can be pushed as high as 25600.  More megapixels usually means more noise at higher ISO, so I am hopeful that the ISO bump delivers better noise levels at higher ISO while the pixel count increases.  As is consistent with past models, this is an APS-C sensor so buyers can use both the EF-S and EF lens lineups.

Canon has built WiFi into the 80D for connection to DLNA and Canon specific devices and services but have also enhanced their iOS and Android offerings to allow for remote control of the camera from your smart device.  The camera also supports NFC for connection to Android devices and to Canon's own Connect Station CS100.  I use the wireless remote control with my C300 cinema camera all the time and like what they have done with this offering.

Video capture is FullHD to a maximum of 60fps.  This is disappointing because Canon used to lead DSLR video by a long stretch, and then stopped innovating, allowing most vendors to catch up and surpass them.  I am surprised that there is no 4K option, and that the FullHD is capped at 60fps.  File formats are either MOV or MP4 using AVCHD compression.  This is actually confusing because one part of the specifications mentions 4K Motion JPEG as in the 1Dx Mark II but 4K is completely missing from the video section.  One of them must be wrong, and hopefully a proofreader will catch this up.

It looks like the 80D will have in camera ratio selections of 3:2, 4:3 and 16:9 as well as 1:1 but it's important to note that RAW images are ALWAYS 3:2 with the desired crop information appended.  This is, imho, the right way to do this.

The metering system is based around 7560 metering points using an RGB-IR system.  Canon claims a luminance capability of EV 1 - EV 20.  That's table stakes, nothing exciting, but nothing horrible.  There are myriad scene modes and preprogrammed scenarios to go with the usual PASM exposure modes.  There are also a stack of effects available in camera to be used on in camera JPEGs.  I never use this stuff myself, but these things are apparently popular in the target marketplace, particularly for those who want that level of Instagrammery in their DSLR.

The shutter speed range is 1/8000 to 30 seconds, decent for a camera in this price point and the shutter is rated at 100,000 actuations.  Flash sync is 1/250.

There is a popup flash for fill or at closer distances.  It can also be used to control Canon Speedlites that are off camera using Infrared control.  Power looks to be GN12 @100ISO so more power than most popups, but it's still going to look like on camera flash.

Burst mode is available at up to 7 frames per second in High, 3 frames per second in low, and 3 frames per second in continuous silent..  Again, pretty decent for a camera in this price point.

You can of course shoot in Live View where the metering range expands to EV 0 to EV 20 and autofocus can still be done, although contrast detection is not available.  This isn't an issue because of the Dual Pixel AF system's ability to do phase difference detection as well.

The rear LCD delivers 1.04M dots across a three inch flippable and tiltable display.  The screen can be seen from the front, making the 80D very suitable for one up video or stills where you are the creator and the talent.

Canon has been very decent in not changing the batteries with every new model, so clients holding LP-E6 or LP-E6n batteries can use them in the 80D.  This is a very good thing.  The initial announcement makes no specification on battery life for stills or video, but I think it is safe to presume life very similar to the 70D because nothing major has changed from a consumption perspective.

The body comes with an eyecup, strap, one battery and a charger.  Pretty generic.

New Accessories

Announced at the same time as the 80D is a new version of the 18-135STM lens, a motorized zoom box, an on camera microphone and a new AC adapter.

The microphone, the DM-E1 looks like an on-camera shotgun style with a USD MSRP of $249.99.  One might do better with a RODE or Sennheiser offering..

The existing GPS unit can be used with the 80D but I have to wonder who is nuts enough to spend USD $390 on a GPS receiver, when you can do GPS capture for free on your smartphone and time sync the information in Lightroom and elsewhere.  I just don't get it.  The 7D Mark II comes with built-in GPS, but no WiFi.  I seriously start to wonder if any of these product managers ever speak to each other.

 The new 18-135

The new 18-135

The new lens incorporates a new AF motor system that Canon calls NANO, not to be confused with Nikon's NANO lens coating - whoops too late.  The new AF system is said to provide very smooth AF transitions for video.  This will be very useful to amateur videographers who leverage the Dual Pixel AF functionality.  Pros still tend to use manual AF, but the demand for AF in video is growing, so this could be a new step.  Beyond the new motor, the lens looks identical to the existing 18-135 STM lens.

 The PZ-E1 power zoom adapter attached to the new 18-135 

The PZ-E1 power zoom adapter attached to the new 18-135 

The PZ-E1 power zoom unit is also new.  It only works with the new 18-135 lens and locks to the lens via a pair of latches, and then uses a geared wheel to zoom the lens.  The left side of the unit has buttons to control the zoom.  Motor zoom would be useful in some scenarios, but I am curious as to how much noise it would make.

Conclusions

This is not a review of the Canon EOS-80D, it's simply an assessment of the announcement.  A review requires a unit for testing, and at least here in Canada, Canon is not overloaded with demonstration units for media.

The 80D is about what I have been expecting.  It's an evolutionary improvement over the proven and successful 70D.  There are some gains in the AF space, and there may be a dynamic range improvement in the new sensor.  More megapixels are meh to me, others live by the MP count.  I am very disappointed that in 2016 when everyone and their cat is putting out devices with 4K video capability, that Canon, who used to rule video in DSLRs is still not there.  It's a good follow on to the 70D and will compete well with other DSLRs in the price point I think.  Canon glass is excellent and if the sensor does deliver better dynamic range, this could be a viable upgrade for the shooter who has outgrown their Rebel or still shoots a 60D or older.  I don't see enough at this juncture to recommend a move up from the 70D, time will tell.  I keep hoping for innovation and revolution from the good people at Canon and never get it.  I need to change my expectations because for the time being, Canon is playing things very safe.