Points in Focus Photography

Image: Canon USA

Thoughts on the Canon EOS 80D and EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

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Just when I get done looking at Canon’s new flagship camera, they go and release a new enthusiast class camera; the 80D, successor to the 70D. And much like the 1DX mark II Canon has made a number of interesting and not so interesting improvements to the 80D. Moreover, they’ve released an enthusiast focused lens to go with the 80D that really looks quite decent for video work as well as stills.

Like my thoughts on the 1DX mark II, I’m not going to go into every detail of the new camera, there are just to many. Instead I’m going to focus on a handful of points that I think are the biggest points.

I Like: Autofocus at F/8

AF at f/8 has been a thing for Canon’s higher end cameras for a while. The EOS–1 series could focus with the center point only going back to the mid 2000’s. On the other hand, the enthusiast tier hasn’t been so lucky, until now.

I’m a huge proponent of having an AF grid that’s active at f/8. It’s immensely useful to me as it lets me carry lighter lenses and get more reach out of them. And this is a position that I still am strongly behind even in the enthusiast tier and with enthusiast like use cases.

The way I see it, enthusiasts are even less likely to be buying fast telephoto lenses. Instead of 70–200mm f/2.8L or even f/4L they’re much more likely to buy a 70–300, and maybe not even the L version. And when they find that the 300mm isn’t enough zoom for them, they go out and buy a cheap 3rd party teleconverter to put on it.

I know this, because I did this back when I was first starting out and didn’t have a lot of money to drop on gear.

Even though the lens may not officially support a teleconverter, and the 3rd party teleconverter may not even report that it’s there, that doesn’t change the fact that it is. The focal length is still multiplied, and as a consequence the aperture is reduced; almost certainly to f/8. Then the whole auto focus thing just falls apart.

Again, I know this, because back when I was getting started, I tried running a 70–300 mm f/4–5.6 with a 3rd party teleconverter, and the AF just couldn’t hack it.

The problem all comes down to geometry, and a sensor that’s not designed to address the geometry of the light at f/8 won’t be able to focus properly at all with a lens at f/8. But now we’re talking about a sensor that’s designed specifically for that, and that means that the sensor at least should be able to deal with the slow aperture.

I Like: 1080p60 Video

This goes along with my sentiment for 1080p120 video on the 1DX mark II, but not nearly to the same degree. 60 frame per second video is great for recording action scenes. Sports, or really any kind of thing where there’s a lot of fast motion. At 24 or 30 FPS, there’s considerably more motion blur and it becomes considerably harder to track and pay attention to fast action.

As an aside, this is the primary reason that EPSN has broadcast at 720p60 instead of 1080p30 or 1080i60 as the higher frame rate progressive signal makes it much easier to follow the quick action that’s frequent in sports — especially things like flying balls.

The 80D brings that kind of capabilities to the average enthusiast and without compromising at only 720p as has been the case in the past.

My only real grip here is that the 80D doesn’t do 120 FPS, even if only at 720p. Which means you can’t slow things down nearly as much as is possible with the 1DX mark II or even an iPad Air 2 or iPhone 6S.

Like: Improved Dual Pixel AF

Focusing while recording video is a real chore, especially if you have to do it manually and without the aid of focusing aids like peaking. Contrast detect AF is a minor help, but it suffers from the typical contrast detect AF problem of not knowing which way to focus and focusing wrong half the time on average to start. Canon’s dual pixel AF works to solve that problem.

Now I’ve played with Canon’s video focusing solutions, both the embedded phase AF points, and dual pixel AF only a little. The dual-pixel AF in the 70D is reasonable, but it could stand to be better.

Canon USA posted a rather nice demo video to their youtube channel. I know, it’s only a demo from the manufacturer. At the same time, the demo appears to be pretty solid, and better than the performance of the 70D’s dual pixel AF. Of course, cameras in users hands, and actual testing remain to be done, so the realities may be completely different.

Disappointment: No GPS

It seems to me like there was a big push a couple of years back to geotag images. Then…Nothing.

I can’t say for sure why it seems to have fizzled the way it did, but I suspect, that it probably has a lot to do with the fact that none of the camera makers bothered to put GPS units in anything other than their most expensive compact cameras — and we all know how those died from the bidirectional crush of cheaper more capable DLSRs and mirrorless-cameras from the top and smart phones from the bottom.

The problem, as I see it, is that geotagging is a real pain in the rear end without having a camera that can do it for you. If I have to remember to start up some track logging software on my phone, or bring along a standalone GPS unit, odds are I’m not going to bother geotagging my images.

I don’t know what Canon’s margins are for their cameras, but they can’t be so high that they can’t afford to put a GPS chip and antenna in them. I can buy GPS receivers that can be integrated in to electronic projects for less than $50. And those carry a huge margin as there’s no real volume ever sold. I can buy a whole handheld GPS unit, like a Garmin eTrex 10, for less than $100. An 80D is going to run $1200 at retail; surely given that there’s WiFi and NFC communication, they could have added a GPS chip too.

EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 IS USM and Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1

Along with the EOS 80D, Canon announced an upgraded version of their EF-S 18–135mm zoom lens, the new EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 IS USM.

Credit: Canon USA
Credit: Canon USA

Canon has really been hammering at the whole video convergence thing seriously. In the past, with the exception of the EF-S 10–22mm f/3.5–4.5 USM and the EF-S 17–55mm f/2.8 IS USM, EF-S lenses used noisy, somewhat slow, micro motors to drive their focus. Starting with the Rebel T4i, Canon started transitioning their more inexpensive EF-S lenses to a new STM, or stepper, motor.

The new motor was intended to boost the video production quality in two ways. First, it was much quieter than the previous micro motors. And secondly, it was able to produce very smooth focus transitions. Of course, it had its down side as well. While it wasn’t any slower than the micro motor lenses at the snap focusing that’s important for still users, it wasn’t as fast as a USM lens either.

On the other hand, USM lenses have their problems as well. They just don’t work good for video, as they can’t make fine smooth focusing motions. They’re all snap for stills.

With the new EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 IS USM, Canon has finally managed to marry the two ends of the spectrum with their new nano-USM motor. Or at least that’s what they claim — again well only know for sure when people have these lenses in hand and can test them.

Again, the key for video is to do things smoothly. STM, and now Nano-USM aim to keep the focusing smooth, and that leaves the zoom; which is where the Power Zoom Drive comes in. The power zoom drive, battery powered motor unit that attaches to mounting points on the bottom of the lens, and gives a camcorder like wide/tele rocker control to drive the zoom.

The premise seems reasonable to me, and I’ll be interested to see how it plays out in actual sales and use. It’s also an open question as to whether or not future lenses will be able to use the PZ-E1 or if this $150 accessory to a $600 lens will be the only place it can be used.

All told the 80D and the new EF-S 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 IS USM look to make some very nice improvements over their processors. The 80D offers a number of compelling looking features, the AF capabilities stand out to me by a long shot, but the video side looks to have made some good improvements too. The same can pretty much bet said of the new 18–135 lens, faster AF is always a plus for stills, and the power zoom drive will certainly make it possible to get nice smooth zooms when shooting video.

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