What's New: EOS 80D as a step-up option, vs. entry-level DSLRs

February 18, 2016

Canon’s mid-range digital SLR series has evolved from the year 2000 launch of the first EOS D30 (not 30D!), through numerous models up to today’s EOS 70D. And now, in early 2016, Canon introduces its latest digital SLR targeting this incredibly broad market, the Canon EOS 80D.

You may be reading this and coming from two possible places:

  • A first-time digital SLR buyer: With the explosive growth in digital imaging, from smart-phones and compact, pocket-size digital camera, you may have reached that point where you are ready to step into a more advanced, interchangeable lens camera. And — here’s a key — you may have done enough research to possibly want something beyond the least-expensive entry-level models.
  • The step-up digital SLR buyer: On the other hand, many photographers already own either an entry-level digital SLR (such as one of Canon’s popular EOS Rebel models, or a similar lightweight SLR camera from another camera maker). Or, you may in fact be a more experienced DSLR photographer, working with an older mid-range camera that’s a few years (or more) old. Either way, you’re contemplating stepping up from one digital SLR you now own to something with more potential.

In the next few minutes, we’ll try to show how a camera with added features and performance, which solidly targets the mid-range of the DSLR market, may be the right way for customers from either group to consider. And that’s in spite of the proliferation of very affordable entry-level digital SLRs now available in today’s marketplace — including EOS Rebel models from Canon.

None of this is to put-down the capabilities or the value of today’s entry-level digital SLRs, whether Canon’s EOS Rebel series or any competitive models. But we want to underscore how the user who is considering a step-up in features and performance can accomplish exactly that if he or she adds the EOS 80D to their list of cameras to research and consider.

 What do you typically get by stepping-up to a mid-range camera?

This is the first question you may want to answer, as you do research, read online reviews, and listen to opinions from other camera buffs. We probably instinctively know that as with many other products, with digital SLRs, you usually get what you pay for. But how does that translate into what it may offer you, in your hands? And, how does that compare with the admittedly excellent image quality and (sometimes) performance that some entry-level models provide? In short, why should you consider plunking down extra money to step-up to something even more advanced?

There are several areas where the photographer who’s looking for “something more” will usually find it, when he or she looks into a mid-range camera. Specifically with the new Canon EOS 80D, when compared to lightweight entry-level DSLRs, you can generally expect superiority in areas like these:

Basic shooting performance

To most photographers who are getting started with a digital SLR, performance seems to point to how fast a camera can shoot — that is, what its fastest frames-per-second (fps) rate is. But experienced users know there’s more to performance than just sheer speed. Responsiveness, or how quicky the camera responds when you initially press the shutter button, is an important consideration. Another consideration that the knowledgeable shooter will consider is the camera’s burst rate, which is how many shots you can fire off in a row, before the camera is forced to slow down. In all these areas, a solid mid-range camera like the EOS 80D has a big advantage over most lightweight, entry-level digital SLRs.

Even the most basic, affordable camera can usually take one or two action pictures of a fast-moving subject. But will you capture the instant you really want? What if you want to take a sequence of action pictures? The “burst rate” — how many shots you can continuously fire-off without slowing down — is as important to many action shooters as the basic frames-per-second speed. And, in almost all cases, mid-range cameras like the EOS 80D are superior to an entry-level model
  • Shooting speed: EOS 80D is capable of shooting up to 7 frames per second, which exceeds the fps rate of many lightweight, entry-level DSLRs. This becomes a noticeable benefit if your interests turn to shooting subjects like sports or shots of people in motion, some types of nature and wildlife, or even situations like candid photography, where you may want to get a fast sequence of similarly-composed pictures in a short period of time. (And, unlike some entry-level models, if the high-speed continuous rate of 7 fps is simply faster than you need, EOS 80D allows you to change the DRIVE setting to a slower 3 fps continuous shooting speed… many entry-level models will force you to change to single-frame operation if you want to work at a slower pace.)
  • Burst rate: This is the aforementioned feature we just discussed: how many consecutive frames can you shoot at the camera’s fastest fps speed. Especially if you shoot RAW image files, there’s a significant difference between a mid-range camera like the EOS 80D and many entry-level models. One example:
  • EOS 80D — up to 20 consecutive RAW images
  • EOS Rebel T6i — up to 7 consecutive RAW images
  • Lag time: This is a time figure that defines how quickly the shutter responds from the instant the shutter button is fully depressed. EOS 80D again is superior to many entry-level DSLRs and in some cases superior to other compact cameras (fixed and interchangeable-lens designs). As a photographer’s experience grows, he or she may well become increasingly aware of these split-second differences, and will see how in some situations, it can make the difference between capturing the “decisive moment” vs. getting a shot a moment later, after that peak instant has occurred.
Autofocus capabilities

Another huge performance area. Not only will the EOS 80D provide more available focusing points vs. many entry-level digital SLRs, but those AF points often deliver better focus performance — tending to grab onto subjects better in low light or those moving at challenging speeds. And, this AF systems are often designed from the outset to work in more challenging conditions.

AF in low light: 
EOS 80D has a distinct advantage over many entry-level cameras here. The EOS 80D can read low-light down to an incredibly dim EV -3, at the center AF point — that’s a light level 2.5 stops lower than a Canon EOS Rebel T6i can focus at (in layman’s terms, the 80D is capable of focusing in ¼ the light level that the T6i is able to).

Low-light shooting without flash is often a challenge to your camera’s focus system. The AF in the EOS 80D offers more than 4x the low-light sensitivity, at the center AF point, than today’s entry-level EOS Rebel models. This translates into more likelihood of sharp pictures in situations like this.

More powerful 45-point AF array: 
One look in the EOS 80D viewfinder shows a strong and flexible AF system, with 45 AF points — again, offering significantly more flexibility and potential for creative control. Subjects can be focused even farther off-center than in many entry-level DSLRs, and the AF system allows changes in AF Area (the size of an AF area), including the new Large Zone AF setting. These adjustments are often missing in less-expensive entry-level DSLRs, and while Canon’s EOS T6i and T6s in fact offer AF Area changes, they don’t have the Large Zone AF option.

One easy-to-see indication of the added potential offered by the EOS 80D is its 45-point AF system. All new, this focus system offers excellent overall performance, along with ability to configure various aspects of AF to meet a photographer’s needs as they develop.

Autofocus adjustability when shooting moving subjects: 
Photographers who regularly shoot moving subjects and action pictures realize that there are many different types of “action.” Entry-level digital SLRs will let you set the camera to what Canon calls AI Servo AF, or a continuous AF setting for moving subjects. But cameras like the EOS 80D go beyond, allowing room to adjust and modify the AF system’s response to different types of movement, and different situations. This is a significant difference, for anyone thinking about potential for “room to grow.”

Not every moving subject approaches at steady speeds. EOS 80D’s AF system allows many of the same adjustments to AI Servo AF as Canon’s high-end pro models, so the camera can be fine-tuned to accommodate more changes in a moving subject’s speed — as might happen if this watercraft was in action on a windy day, hitting waves and being forced to momentarily slow down as it rises over them.

AF with tele-extenders, at f/8 maximum lens apertures: 
Many of our more advanced users find that adding a Canon EF tele extender to their compatible telephoto lens(es) is a great way to add to their shooting repertoire, with relatively modest additions in size, weight or cost. However, the light loss that a 1.4x or 2x tele extender produces when mounted to a telephoto lens is unavoidable, and if the effective maximum aperture of the lens + extender creates an aperture slower than f/5.6 (that is, a higher f-number), AF stops altogether with most entry-level DSLRs. But the EOS 80D has extensive capabilities to focus at either the center AF point, or in some cases 27 of the system’s 45 AF points, with effective maximum apertures of f/8 or faster. Wildlife, nature and sports shooters, among others, may find this a valuable feature as their interest and picture-taking abilities develop.

AF Microadjustment capability: It’s rare you’ll need this feature, but in the event you do, EOS 80D’s inclusion of Canon’s AF Microadjustment means you may be able to fine-tune your AF system for tack-sharp results, based on a few initial test pictures, rather than being forced to send a lens or even the camera to a service facility for adjustment. Serious and critical DSLR photographers look for this feature, and EOS 80D provides it if and when it’s needed.

Viewfinder, and overall camera design

The basic architecture of a mid-range model like the EOS 80D differs from cameras like Canon’s EOS Rebel series. Entry-level models like the latter place a premium on light weight, and affordable construction, and there’s no better example than comparing the viewfinder and prism designs:

EOS 80D:
Solid glass pentaprism (superior evenness of viewfinder illumination, especially away from center), and in many cases, better viewfinder contrast (subjects can seem to visually “pop” into focus more decisively).

Canon EOS Rebel models (and many other entry-level DSLRs):
Hollow prism, with mirrors throughout to reflect light to eyepiece — unquestionably lighter weight and less-expensive to produce, but prone to some visual darkening (especially looking away from center), and viewfinder contrast often takes a back seat to maximizing what brightness is there.

EOS 80D’s solid glass prism is clearly visible in this engineering graphic. It’s a key component in the viewfinder system, and an important reason that this camera’s viewfinder will be superior for many users, vs. the simpler and lighter-weight designs common in entry-level digital SLRs.

EOS 80D provides additional important viewfinder benefits, which anyone holding the camera in his or her hands should look for — especially if they compare it to a less-expensive, entry-level model:

100% viewfinder coverage: 
Once something reserved for only absolute top-of-the-line professional cameras, a full 100% view means that when you shoot a picture, the resulting file is accurate out to the very edges of what you saw in the eye-level viewfinder. This type of design requires added manufacturing precision and care, and therefore is among the first things by-passed in the design of entry-level models. Cameras with lower than 100% fields of view will tend to include a little more in the actual picture than you saw in the viewfinder when you composed the picture — often, not a problem, but it can be when you’re trying to precisely compose a shot, or doing very exacting shooting such as photographing products, artwork, or documents.

Greater viewfinder magnification: 
Simply stated, the EOS 80D’s viewfinder provides a larger image to your eye than entry-level models like the EOS Rebel series do. A quick side-by-side comparison will show that the 80D’s .95x magnification (vs. .82x on the Rebel T6i and T6s models, for instance) isn’t just a number on a spec sheet… it’s something you’ll see every time you go to shoot using the eye-level viewfinder.

Battery strength and performance: 
Canon’s EOS 80D continues the use of a strong, rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery called the Canon LP-E6N. This is the same battery that’s been used in models up to and including the EOS 5D Mark III, and high-resolution EOS 5DS series cameras. While it’s true this battery is larger and heavier than those in the Canon EOS Rebel models, it provides a significant increase in battery power for a fully-charged battery:

  • EOS 80D — over 1200 shots, without flash
  • EOS Rebel models — approx. 470~550 shots, without flash

Note also that there’s a more sophisticated battery check system in the EOS 80D, allowing you to check remaining battery charge in precise, 1% increments in the camera’s menu. EOS Rebel models display remaining charge via a 5-stage icon.

Body durability and weather-resistance: 
Another important asset that those looking to step-up may well appreciate. EOS 80D has a network of weather-resistant gaskets and seals, to minimize problems from dust, dirt, and moisture. In the interest of low cost and light weight, that’s usually missing from entry-level DSLRs. And, Canon engineers have durability-tested the shutter, mirror and drive mechanisms of the EOS 80D camera, and have rated them to 100,000 exposures under normal operating conditions. EOS Rebel models have never (as of February, 2016) received an official “durability rating” number from Canon engineers; many competitive entry-level models similarly are not officially durability-rated.

Two important design elements in the EOS 80D’s body are shown in this graphic. Weather-resistant seals and gaskets, in red, are placed at most buttons, dial positions, and several important seams on the camera body. And parts that join together and are designed to resist moisture and foreign material are illustrated in green. The important take-away is that these steps are generally not taken on lightweight entry-level models, and show another important example of what the EOS 80D user gets in return for their investment in this camera.

Sophisticated drive system: 
Along with its added shutter durability and 7 fps shooting speed, EOS 80D adds very precise motor-driven control for its mirror movement. Especially during high-speed shooting sequences, this not only smooths out the camera, but provides a more stable viewfinder image during shooting, and gives the AF system added time between shots to read and update focus info when shooting moving subjects. Less-expensive entry-level models use spring-driven systems to raise and lower the mirror — certainly cost-effective, but with performance drawbacks as speeds rise.

Camera handling and operations

Here’s an area where the experienced user will often see and feel differences within the first few moments of picking a camera up. You may not have the same level of sensitivity to subtle design and operation differences right now, but if you’re looking for a camera that’ll give you lots of room to grow your abilities, consider some of the following benefits the EOS 80D provides over less-expensive, entry-level DSLRs:

Quick Control Dial on the back, for exposure changes and adjustments
With the exception of Canon’s EOS Rebel T6s model (as of February, 2016), no other EOS Rebel model to date (and virtually no competitive entry-level DSLRs) have anything like the rear Quick Control Dial.  Almost a trademark on Canon’s mid-range and high-end SLRs since its introduction on the first EOS-1 model in 1989, this allows instant exposure compensation with the camera at the photographer’s eye, and in manual mode, instant, one-handed ability to set lens apertures.  Working quickly, most users will agree it’s a big step up from buttons alone on the back of entry-level models.

At the heart of the superior control a camera like the EOS 80D offers is the Quick Control Dial, on the back of the camera. Easily operated with the photographer’s thumb, this dial allows instant adjustment of exposure settings as you shoot, without needing to remove the photographer’s eye from the viewfinder. Most entry-level models use a series of buttons instead, which are certainly functional, but usually not as quick and intuitive to work with as you shoot pictures.

Advanced Auto ISO abilities
A feature that advanced SLR users increasingly request, the EOS 80D has a strong Auto ISO system. It not only lets users simply allow the camera to pick appropriate ISOs, but in P (Program auto exposure) and Av (Aperture-priority auto exposure) modes, allows the user to pre-set the slowest shutter speed he or she wants to work with… Auto ISO will endeavor to change ISO to keep speeds at or above that threshold.

Flash: maximum flash sync speed 1/250th second
EOS 80D’s fastest normal flash sync speed matches that on Canon’s top-of-the-line pro models (as of February, 2016), at up to 1/250th of a second. Most entry-level models have to shoot flash pictures at slower shutter speeds, and this can become increasingly problematic when shooting with flash in brightly-lit situations, or when trying to perform fill-flash outdoors in sunlight.

Memorize and instantly record two sets of shooting settings with “C” modes
EOS 80D allows the user to memorize two different sets of shooting settings, and then instantly recall them by changing the camera’s Mode Dial to either the “C1” or “C2” setting. For instance, a user who frequently shoots flash pictures indoors might have a preferred “starting point” for his or her camera shooting mode, ISO setting, white balance, and even combinations of camera Custom Functions. He or she could memorize them, and when moving from outdoors into a flash situation, easily change the camera by simply turning to the “C” setting he or she previously memorized. Canon’s EOS Rebel models, to date, have no ability to memorize and instantly recall shooting settings.

If you frequently do specialized work, EOS 80D makes it easy to memorize an entire set of initial camera settings, which you can then instantly recall by turning the Mode Dial to either of the “C” settings. In this example, a shooter who sometimes does macro work with flash could pre-set his or her preferred initial settings for this type of work, and then immediately return to them at any future time once they’ve been memorized via the Custom Shooting Mode entry, within the Set-up Menu.

Vastly expanded range of camera Custom Functions
We can only skim over the highlights here, but EOS 80D offers far more Custom Function capabilities vs. the entry-level Canon EOS Rebel series. These include many features to adjust exposure capabilities; change AF settings (including multiple settings to fine-tune the AF system for moving subjects); and change the operation of up to nine separate controls on the EOS 80D body, to tailor them to your preferred way of working. Most of this simply isn’t possible with entry-level models like the EOS Rebel series.

HD Video operation

For an increasing number of users, today’s digital SLR is a multi-media tool. Even if a user is simply contemplating shooting occasional video to post on a social media site or on YouTube™, there’s little question that a solid mid-range camera like the EOS 80D smooths out many of the challenges of DSLR video, as well as offering more features which you can leverage as your experience and demands grow.

Dual Pixel CMOS AF
A Canon technology for autofocus during video shooting (and Live View still-image shooting) that combines smoothness and decisiveness, and ability to focus on moving subjects in many situations. No entry-level model to date (as of February 2016) can match the performance of this AF technology during video shooting.

Full HD resolution (1080p), at up to 60 frames per second
Smooth recording of motion doesn’t require a drop in resolution with the EOS 80D, which can shoot at its highest resolution — the same Full HD that the majority of today’s flat-screen TVs provide — at up to 60 fps (59.94 actual frames per second); Canon’s EOS Rebel models are able to shoot Full HD up to 30 fps, but cannot match the super-smooth rendition of movement that the 80D is able to at the 60 fps setting.

Choice of video file types: work with best file type for your intended final viewing
Unlike entry-level EOS Rebel models, the EOS 80D user has added ability in the video shooting menu to select the type of video file… the .MP4 type is well-suited to video to be placed online, while the .MOV type adds extra flexibility for video editing at the computer — especially if the “ALL-I” compression method is selected. Again, none of this is possible with EOS Rebel entry-level models, as of February, 2016.

• Additional video features and functionality — not possible on many entry-level models:

  • - Built-in Time Lapse video feature (creates finished time-lapse movies in-camera)
  • - Creative Filter effects during video recording
  • - Headphone jack, to hear and monitor sound as camera records it
  • - Customizable shutter button, during video shooting
  • - Remote control video recording, in Menu

So while it’s absolutely true that an entry-level model like a Canon EOS Rebel can indeed record video, and high-quality video at that, the EOS 80D adds numerous additional capabilities and possibilities that make it a better choice for either the user who already has experience, or for those who hope to gain it, and don’t want to be forced to buy another camera in a short period of time.  These features, along with the camera’s vari-angle LCD monitor, make the EOS 80D an ideal digital SLR for one-person, creative video recording.

Image control in the camera

We’ll finish with a few of the added capabilities that the EOS 80D adds over entry-level models, when it comes to in-camera control of images. Experienced SLR users generally find that there’s more to their craft than simply pressing the shutter button, hoping for the best, and moving to the next picture. EOS 80D offers numerous possible choices for the more advanced user, and again, gives a multitude of flexibility and room to grow into for those getting started on their photographic journey. Examples include:

Shoot HDR images in-camera, with user control: 
More flexibility, user-adjustments and creative possibilities than in the EOS Rebel models’ “HDR Backlight” mode

Multi-exposure shooting, in-camera: 
No requirement to perform creative multi-exposures in the computer

EOS 80D’s built-in multi-exposure setting lets users create these images in-camera. Up to nine separate shots can be combined into one finished multi-exposure image, and it’s possible to begin with an image you’ve already taken separately, and add additional images to that first selected one. Again, it’s an element of in-camera creative control not usually found in entry-level models.

Reduced-resolution RAW options: 
All the processing flexibility of RAW files, but at lower resolutions, when full-res 24 million pixel images aren’t required

In-camera RAW processing: 
Play-back a RAW image on the camera’s LCD monitor, and via a Playback menu setting, process that RAW file into a finished, JPEG copy that can be saved to the memory card, and easily sent by Wi-Fi or other means to social media sites, e-mail, or even clients

White Balance — added options: 
EOS 80D adds both a 2nd option for Auto White Balance, called White Priority (in some indoor situations, this will give truer color rendition), and also adds a Kelvin (K) WB option, which allows extremely fine pre-setting and fine-tuning of daylight or tungsten-type lighting.

Picture Style — adds fine-tuning for in-camera sharpening: 
Like Canon’s recent high-end EOS 5DS and 5DS R models, the EOS 80D adds not only a new Picture Style option for increased in-camera sharpening called the Fine Detail Picture Style, but also adds both Fineness and Threshold sharpening adjustments for all previous Picture Style settings. The still-image shooter now has even more control over how his or her images will appear, before any editing in the computer.

Summary

The theme of this article should be clear: the new Canon EOS 80D camera certainly provides shooters from many experience levels more in the way of step-up features and potential than most entry-level digital SLRs can provide. And, while the 80D is certainly larger, heavier and costs more than EOS Rebel models, and similar competitive entry-level models, it can easily be shown that there are far more areas of camera features and control that allow room for a photographer to develop his or her skills.

None of this in any way is to detract from the capabilities and attractiveness of today’s entry-level digital SLRs. They have been and continue to be the point of entry to many, many customers into the world of great photography. And, no one can question the value they provide to the cost-conscious customer.

But in any group of prospective customers, there are those who are willing to do a bit of research, see what’s out there, and who don’t mind paying a bit more if they can be shown that the added investment buys them actual capabilities. Hopefully, in this article, we’ve spoken to exactly that type of customer, and shown how the EOS 80D indeed can be a superb step-up camera, whether this is your first digital SLR, or whether you’ve been down this road with older or less-advanced DSLRs, and want to make a major step upward, without the high cost of advanced models.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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