Canon Announces 80D... Controlled Descent?

At a moment in time where camera unit sales are in free fall, the 80D feels like an effort at controlling descent rather than lighting up the after-burners.

The specs had leaked a couple of days before the official announcement, and they turned out to be pretty much right. Here are the updates verbatim from Canon’s press release: 

·      New 45-point all cross-type AF system

·      Intelligent Viewfinder with approximately 100% viewfinder coverage

·      Newly Developed 24.2 Megapixel (APS-C) CMOS sensor

·      DIGIC 6 image processor for enhanced image quality

·      Improved Dual Pixel CMOS AF for smooth, fast and accurate autofocus with video and stills

·      Built-in Wi-Fi®2 and NFCTM2 capability for easy transfer of images and movies to compatible mobile devices

·      1080/60p Full HD video to capture brilliant results in MP4 format for easy movie sharing on select social networking sites

·      Vari-angle Touch Screen 3.0-inch Clear View LCD II monitor enables flexible positioning and clear viewing even outdoors

After you finish reading them, you may be wondering: who is this camera designed to satisfy?

Is the 80D Competitive?

Don’t get me wrong: the 80D has Canon quality and ergos (some of the best in the business), and provides access to Canon’s vast array of glass (arguably the biggest and best overall). The improvements over the 70D  are real. There is even a new 18-135mm zoom designed specifically for a power zoom adapter and a new directional mic that slips into the 80D’s hot shoe.

But here’s the thing: none of these items appear to substantively address the shortcomings which placed its predecessor in the lower half of the pack (see, for example, dpreview or DxOMark), especially when it comes to video.

I mean: no 4K, limited dynamic range, limited low-light performance, no focus- or exposure-assists, no in-body image stabilization.

Will the 80D be a compelling alternative to the heretofore comparably priced Panasonic GX8 (originally $1,198 but now reduced by $200 to $997 plus $100 gift card at B&H) or Olympus OM-D E-M5 II (formerly $1,099 now also reduced by $200 to $899 at B&H) for video?

Panasonic Lumix GX8

 olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk II

olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk II

Remember, the GX8 records 4K internally, has a tilting EVF (as well as LCD) and dual image stabilization -- while the Oly has 5-axis IBIS and 40mp high res stills mode (when used on a tripod).

Will the 80D be a compelling alternative to Sony’s a6000 (currently $498 after $50 instant savings at B&H) or its just-announced and soon-to-be-released $998 a6300?

 Sony a6000

Sony a6000

 Sony a6300

Sony a6300

 

Remember, the a6000 had -- until the announcement of the 6300 – arguably the world’s fastest autofocus, along with focus and exposure assists and a 24mp sensor superior to the sensor of the 70D and 7D Mk II. The a6300 not only records 4K internally but shoots up to 120fps in full HD with minimal crop, offers 14 stops of dynamic range with S-Log3 and improved low light sensitivity with a new sensor, and has what Sony is calling the world’s fastest autofocus. Sony’s UWP D11 wireless mic + SMAD-3 Multi-Interface Shoe Adapter not only connects directly without cables but offers a headphone jack, obviating the need for either (the a6000 has neither, while a6300 has a mic jack; even so, both send audio as well as video out through their micro HDMI port, allowing one to monitor sound through a variety of external means). Their $498 XLR-K2M uses that same smart hot shoe connection to add multiple XLR inputs and Sony’s own shotgun mic to the mix.

Then again, the 80D has built-in mic and headphone jacks. 

The reason I draw these particular comparisons is because with the addition of:

  • a power zoom adapter;
  • relocated on-board mics;
  • a new, optional shoe-mounted mic;
  • 60fps in HD (up from 30);
  • mic and headphone jacks; and
  •  a new zoom lens with new motor

most of the updates seem to revolve around video (oddly, the tag line for the camera from Canon is “focus with precision” – speaking of which, whatever happened to the Eye-Control technology of the EOS 3, introduced on that model in 1998? And how many lenses in the Canon line-up can actually take advantage of dual pixel autofocus? HINT: it’s fewer than you think).

So: Who is It For, Really?

Maybe the answer to some of these questions will turn out to be “yes,” especially if you’re already committed to Canon lenses, prefer Canon ergonomics, or really, really like touch screens.

Which is fine.

Maybe you're looking to move up from a point & shoot or a high-end smartphone, and it's easy to go with the market leader or the 80D just feels right in your hand.

And again, that's fine.

Still, given the 80D’s modestly updated specs in such a hotly-contested market segment, it seems to me that the 80D is ultimately designed more for Canon’s shareholders than videographers. Call it the minimum functional update required to move people contemplating  the 70D (now reduced from $1,199 to $999 at B&H) to pony up an extra $200 for the 80D -- or into the much higher-spec'd and priced Cinema EOS line starting with the newly-reduced $4,499 C100 Mk II (though it will cost you a minimum of $5,999 to get into 4K Canon hybrid stills/video camera, the just announced 1D X Mark II.

Gotta protect those margins.

Which, for the last time, is fine. If I were Canon, I might do the same thing.

Then again, maybe I wouldn't.

At a moment in time when camera unit sales are in free fall and smartphones are getting crazy good, the 80D feels like an effort at controlling descent rather than lighting up the after-burners.

If you want after-burners, start by checking out the Sony a6300.