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How Good is the Canon EOS 80D DSLR Camera for Bird Photography

A couple of months ago I purchased the Canon 80D, and I have now had enough time using it out in the field to give my thoughts on it. I am by no means a photography expert, but I have a fairly good grasp of what I would like in a camera and I know and understand how to use most of the features on the camera. This purchase was done to upgrade from my Canon EOS 750D, so I will also refer back to that in some of the comparisons I do.

The 80D is considered an enthusiast range camera by Canon, and is not the latest camera in the enthusiast range, as that would be the 90D which has been out for about a year now. The camera has an APS-C sensor which means a crop factor of 1.6.

Let’s take a look at the specs in the table below as a starting point.

So what are the reasons I upgraded from the 750D to the 80D? To be honest I wasn’t expecting a vast improvement, as I had already compared the specs beforehand, but I did want something a bit better. Some of the main upgrades are the following:

  • Image Quality. There are about 10-25% improvements in some of the key metrics that affect image quality e.g. MAX ISO (16000 vs 12800), Colour Depth (23.6 vs 22.7), Dynamic Range (13.2 vs 12) and Low Light ISO (1135 vs 919). If you are wondering where these numbers are coming from, they are the official DxOMark scores. DxOMark is an independent company that scientifically evaluates cameras, smartphones and lenses and provides scores for comparison.

  • Environmental Sealing. This is a nice upgrade to have, as us birders are often out in conditions where dust, sand or water can become a real problem and we want to know our camera will not be damaged. Examples of conditions where this becomes very handy is on pelagic trips where sea spray can be a big worry for equipment, or out on the beach on a windy day where the fine sea sand can really do damage.

  • Autofocus at f8 aperture (for teleconverters). This is one of the big reasons I upgraded. My 750D will not work with a 1.4 x lens extender as it will not be able to autofocus. I haven’t yet bought a 1.4 extender as they are pretty expensive, but it’s something I will be doing in the near future.

  • Battery Life. One of the biggest differences I have noticed is the battery life. It is more than double that of the 750D, and I have taken my camera on a few weekend trips and I have never had to charge it on the weekend, and the battery hasn’t even gone half way flat.

  • Value for Money: I paid R12000 for the 80D on special from Takealot. I believe this is one of the best value for money cameras in this enthusiast range.

Those are the reasons I chose the 80D, but why didn’t I choose the newer 90D or the ever popular 7D mkii.

Let’s start with the 90D. Firstly there is the price. The 90D is R20000 on special. Please note that I am mostly quoting the prices when they are on special, as that is when you should be buying them. Black Friday is coming up soon, so expect these prices to come back if they are not currently available. Ok so it’s R8000 more than the 80D, so you would expect it to be a lot better. But is it? The answer is I don’t really know and I find it very frustrating that I can’t find any score comparisons between the two on the all-important image quality features (Colour Depth, Dynamic Range, and Low Light ISO).If someone does have this information available then please send it to me, I would be very appreciative. The 90D does have 32.5MP as opposed to the 24MP of the 80D, but again I don’t actually know if this is necessarily a good thing, as I have read a lot of opinions from people saying that this will increase the noise in the photos, and along with the fact that I can’t find any ISO and low light comparisons between the two, I am very wary. Where I actually suspect the increased price is coming from is the improvements in video recording. The 90D can record in 4k which is a great improvement if you record videos, but I hardly do, so this didn’t appeal to me. There is also an improvement in the shooting rate in terms of fps (11 vs 7), but again that doesn’t really affect my style of photography too much. Look the fact is I don’t doubt the 90D is a better camera than the 80D, as it also has a newer sensor and higher MAX ISO, but for me I feel that it doesn’t represent good value for money, especially in terms of my style of photography and the fact that I don’t use video that much.

So what about the 7Dmkii? Let me make a controversial statement that many will disagree with. I think the 7Dmkii is one of the most overrated cameras for bird photography out there and represents bad value for money. It is also in the region of R20000 on special, and for this you get a drop in image quality on all the metrics compared to the 80D. Colour Depth is 22.4 vs 23.6, Dynamic Range is 11.8 vs 13.3 and Low Light ISO is 1082 vs 1135. That’s not all though as the 7Dmkii is also heavier by 180g, has only 20MP, has no wifi, touchscreen and has a worse battery life. So why the hell is it R8000 more than the 80D? The reason I believe is perception. The 7Dmkii was very good in its day (2014), but that day has long passed now. People are still clinging on to its 2014 success, and because there has been no successor to it from Canon it has remained stubbornly expensive, whereas the 80D has seen a significant price drop already because of the release of its successor the 90D. Ok so I am not completely stupid as the 7Dmkii is of course better than the 80D in some areas. It is better for birds in flight. Now when I see reviews online about cameras for bird photography, the thing that amazes me, is they mainly deal with photography for birds in flight. The reality I find is that the vast majority of my bird photos are not birds in flight. Sure I know how to take birds in flight perfectly well, but if you are like me, and you find yourself with them being in the minority then avoid the hype around the 7Dmkii. The 7Dmkii has a higher continuous fps rate than the 80D (10fps vs 7fps) due to its dual digic 6 processors, and it also has more autofocus points (65 vs 45) giving you better subject tracking, as well as a better metering system.