Canon DSLR

6D Mark II, 5D Mark IV, 7D Mark II or 80D, which Mid-range Canon dslr for Wildlife Photography

It wasn’t that long ago, when it seemed that if you wanted a seriously good Canon camera for wildlife you where limited to perhaps the 1D series.  That situation has changed for the good, in our opinion, and today there are four current “mid-range” camera bodies plus one recently discontinued, all of which we consider to be good enough for high-quality wildlife photography.  All five are cheaper, lighter and smaller than the 1DX series.  For this post, we have chosen to line up the 5D Mark 4, 6D Mark 2, 7D Mark 2, 80D and the discontinued 5D Mark 3 and describe how they work, for our kind of wildlife photography, with reference to one another.  Another mid-range Canon body which offers class-leading resolution and lots more, is the 5D SR. The only reason that we did not include this camera in the comparison was that we did not have a 5D SR in our hands whilst we where putting the post together.  We have done a dedicated post on the EOS 5D SR and using it for wildlife photography, here.

Another reason for writing this post, is to give wildlife photographers who like to work with two camera bodies, some idea of how one body works when shot side by side with another Canon body.  These can be important considerations when choosing a second body. 

It is not our aim to directly compare these cameras with the aim of choosing one overall winner at the end.  That approach doesn’t make much sense as these camera bodies differ quite radically in their market prices, with the 5D Mk4 costing between two and three times as much as the 80D.  At the same time, amongst this group of cameras there are many similarities and feature overlap.

The newest camera in this group is the 6D Mark 2, followed by the 5D Mark 4, the 80D, the 7D Mark 2 and the discontinued 5D Mark 3.   The key capabilities vary somewhat due to their specification as well as their age, and that can mean that sometimes it is not always the most expensive model or the newest that may excel in certain things.  The best camera for you may be the one that excels in whatever aspect of the camera function and features are most important to you.  We included the 5D Mark 3 even though it is discontinued, for a number of reasons.  Many photographers have owned them, so it makes a good reference to the newer cameras. It can be bought on the used-camera market for much less than some of the other cameras in the group.

Build Quality

The 5D Mark 4 ought to be the toughest of these cameras, along with the 7D Mark 2.  These two cameras seemingly have the strongest chassis design (except for the plastic flash cover on top of the 7D Mark 2 viewfinder) and highest levels of weather-sealing.

They are the only two bodies in this group with the sealing groove that circles the EF mount (and fits the rubber weather-sealing ring found on the mount of some EF-L lenses).

The 5D Mark 3 is also built with a metal chassis, seemingly with fewer seals and gaskets than the newer 5D Mark 4 and the 7D Mark 2. 

The 6D Mark 2 and the 80D have chassis constructed of lighter, less costly materials.  Whilst they don’t feel as robust in the hand as the bigger cameras in this group this could just be our perception due to their lighter weight.  They also have less of the grippy rubber material than the three heavier cameras.  We have no reason to believe that the 6D Mark 2 and 80D are not tough enough to  to do the job.  We expect that the swivel-tilt screens in the 6D Mark 2 and 80D and their hinge mechanism might not be as robust as the fixed screens on the other three cameras, but so far ours have held up perfectly.

And there is an advantage to the flip screen in that it can turned around and folded inwards for total protection.

All five bodies share basically the same mode dial and On/Off switch.  We like the locking mode dial and have never damaged any of ours.  To help with context, we use our Canon bodies outdoors, in direct sun, in hot and sometimes dusty conditions.  Working with them inside game-drive vehicles also exposes them to bumps and knocks from the interior of the vehicles.  They also get exposed to some of the unavoidable sand, dirt and debris that comes when we are shooting from the ground, especially low angle work.  To try minimise wear and tear or damage, we keep our camera and lens combinations in 3mm neoprene soft bags anytime we are not shooting.  To date, our record with the cameras in this group has been good, with just two broken rear LCD screens suffered so far (one on our 5D Mark 4, one on our 7D Mark 2).

We use Kenko LCD screen protectors on all our cameras, and believe they go a long way in helping ward off scratches and scuffs and even more serious damage.  Of course, we don’t always get them fitted in time, and have even used hand-cut cell phone protective plastic when we had no other option.

Our Canon 7D Mark 2 sensor stays clean the longest

Build quality also plays a role in how clean these cameras stay on the inside.  When it comes to dust and debris, we find that the 7D Mark 2 image sensor stays the cleanest for the longest, amongst all our dslr bodies.  The 80D is next best at staying clean, followed by the 6D Mark 2, 5D Mark 3 and 5D Mark 4.  None of them collect dust or debris on their sensors as often as some our 1DX bodies, or as often as some older Canon cameras that we used.  Although we work in dusty environments we try to limit how often we change lenses in the field but sometimes it cannot be helped.  It is also quick and easy on all five of these cameras to use a blower to dislodge any loose debris from the sensor.

Of these five bodies, we also find that the 7D Mark 2 autofocus screen (it is located inside the body, above the mirror in a horizontal orientation on all the cameras) stays cleanest (dust on the autofocus screen appears in the viewfinder but not on the image).  

Controls

When it comes to controls, there are a lot of identical controls, but controls are also where some of these bodies differ the most.

All five of these cameras have a version of Canon’s locking mode dial in the same location.  The 7D Mark 2, 5D Mark 4 and 5D Mark 3 all have similar mode dial options as well as 3 Custom mode settings, which are very useful for storing groups of often-used settings.  The 80D and the 6D Mark 2 only have 2 Custom mode settings but they do each have a SCN mode option which is very helpful for those upgrading from compact cameras or the Rebel series. 

Canon 6D Mark 2 ‘help’ screen for each Mode and On/Off switch on top left.

The On-Off switches are all identical in their location and function on the top left side of each camera.

Canon 7D Mark 2 top view showing On/Off switch.

All five bodies have a top display with key shooting information.  The 5D Mark 4, 5D Mark 3 and 7D Mark 2 have slightly bigger screens than the other two cameras.

Ahead of the top screens, are a row of buttons, either 4 or 5 in number.  On the 5D Mark 4, the 7D Mark 2 and the 5D Mark 3 (not shown above) these 4 buttons are identical in placement and function.  Starting from the outside, there is the button for the light, then comes the ISO button.  On the 80D and the 6D Mark 2 the Metering button is now in place of the ISO button.  If we where still changing our iso manually, this difference would make it more difficult for us to switch between bodies with the ISO button second from right, and bodies with ISO button third from right.  This is because when we are changing our iso setting manually, we typically do so without looking away from the viewfinder.  We cannot see any advantage in having these controls in different locations.

 

Canon 7D Mark 2 control button layout and top screen.

Fortunately there are a few ways to work around this if you are using two bodies with different button layouts at the same time, and you cannot get used to it.  It is possible to make use of the Custom Controls screen and reconfigure the Set button to the ISO function.  (That can lead to further complications though if you use the Set button for exposure compensation).

Canon 6D Mark 2 control button layout and top screen.

Fortunately for us, we are able to avoid having to change the iso setting manually by shooting our cameras in M-(Manual) mode with Auto ISO switched on.  Of course we set upper limits for the Auto- Iso for each camera.  We configure all our Canon bodies then for aperture control on the front control dial (next to the shutter) and then the large rear command dial is used to set shutter speed.  Then we just monitor the iso setting as it shows up in the viewfinder.  We find this technique to be the most efficient and it works the same on all of the cameras, so there are no confusing differences to try remember when switching from one to another. 

Canon 5D Mark 3 top screen and control buttons, also M.Fn button for switching between focus modes.

All five of these bodies have the small button (M.Fn) that sits beside the shutter release which we use for shifting between focus group options.  It can be reconfigured to perform other functions on all the bodies if required.

All five bodies also have the two buttons Menu and Info, located just to the left of the viewfinder.

Canon 7D Mark 2 MENU and INFO buttons

 

Canon 6D Mark 2 MENU and INFO buttons

We just included images of two of the five bodies as the buttons are identical in placement and function on all of them.

 

Canon 5D Mark 4 rear view

 

Canon 7D Mark 2 rear view

 

Canon 5D Mark 3 rear view

On the 5D Mark 4, 7D Mark 2 and 5D Mark 3, an identical row of  five buttons run down the left side of the inch LCD screen, for Picture control/HDR access, Rate, Magnify, Playback and lastly Delete.  The 5D Mark 4 and 5D Mark 3 have rear LCD screens that are 81 mm wide (3.2 inch) whereas the 7D Mark 2 has a screen that is 77 mm wide (3.0 inch), which means smaller text in the menus.  On the right side of the screen, from the top are a combination switch for engaging Live View and video, the dedicated AF multi-controller joystick, the Q-button for quick access to almost every setting, and then the large Quick Command Dial, with the Set button within.  A sliding lock switch sits beneath.  The 5D Mark 4 has a mini-switch that sits beneath the AF multi-controller and the 7D Mark 2 has a  mini-lever that encircles the multi-controller that we use for changing AF groupings quickly without looking away from the viewfinder.

Canon 6D Mark 2 showing rear of camera

 

Canon 80D showing rear of camera

The 6D Mark 2 and the 80D both have swivel-tilt screens which we much prefer.  We can use these two bodies in Live View, with their fast and accurate DPAF focusing, and use the screen’s flexibility to allow us to get closer, lower, higher, with our cameras to our wild subjects without having to keep our eye to the viewfinder.  The versatility of the swivel-tilt touch screen was one of the reasons that we bought our 80D and 6D Mark 2.  The 5D Mark 4 also has an excellent touch screen with good resolution but it is fixed in place.  The 7D Mark 2 screen and the 5D Mark 3 screens are perfectly adequate but seem outdated compared to the newer cameras in this regard.

When shooting through the viewfinder, both Helena and I like to move our selected focus point around the frame for the purpose of composition, without looking away from the viewfinder.  We find it easy to do this using the dedicated AF multi-controller found on the 5D Mark 4, 7D Mark 2 and 5D Mark 3.  The 6D Mark 2 and 80D lack dedicated multi-controllers.

On the 6D Mark 2 and the 80D, it is possible to move the selected focus point by tilting the direction pad on the back of the camera, but we find this takes us a bit longer to achieve.  Whether this impacts your shooting seriously will depend on your own usage scenario.  If you are used to using a dedicated multi-controller to shift your focus point, not having it can be frustrating and lead to missed shots.  If you don’t frequently move your focus point around in the frame you won’t miss the multi-controller very much.  Of course there are other ways to move the selected focus point around like the dials but we don’t use that method ourselves.

The 5D Mark 4, 5D Mark 3 and 7D Mark 2 have large, ridged rear command dials which we find easier to use than the smaller combination dials on the back of the 6D Mark 2 and 80D, usually to set shutter speed or compensation.

The 5D Mark 4, 7D Mark 2 and 5D Mark 3 use the same eyepiece, and have similar viewfinders though the two full-frame models are more spacious to look through and may be brighter.

The 6D Mark 2 and 80D share a smaller eyepiece than the other three cameras.  Comparing the information on display within the viewfinders, it is only the much older 5D Mark 3 which lacks the electronic level, as well as the extra information like AF Mode, Drive, WB etc.  It is also the only camera without flicker detection though we don’t use that much for wildlife.  It is possible to customize the viewfinder quite easily on the 5D Mark 4, the 7D Mark 2, the 6D Mark 2 and the 80D.

On the right side of the viewfinder, all five cameras have similar switches for activating Live View/Video capture, as well as a buttons for AF-On, and another for (*) Exposure lock.  The button on the far right activates the focus group options on all the cameras.  On the 80D it also functions as a zoom-in button but only in Playback mode.

Canon 6D Mark 2 Live View, AF-ON, * and Focus Grid buttons

 

Canon 7D Mark 2 Live View, AF-ON, * and Focus Grid buttons

  

All five bodies have a Q-button on the back to give quick access to the main settings via the rear LCD.  Only on the 5D Mark 4  you can customize what that screen looks like.  It is also worth noting that the three cameras with touchscreens, whether swivel-tilt or not, being the 6D Mark 2, the 80D and the 5D Mark 4, allow many of their settings to be accessed directly from the rear touchscreen, which makes using them more intuitive.  

All five cameras also have the Custom Controls menu, where it is possible to reconfigure many of the buttons and dials to one’s preferences.  In this regard, the the 5D Mark 4 has the greatest degree of flexibility when it comes to changing button and control functions, followed by the 7D Mark 2.  The other three cameras offer options, just not as many.

Ergonomics and Size

These five cameras can easily be split into two groups when it comes to ergonomics.

The largest camera, 5D Mark 4 on the left, and the smallest, 80D on the right

In one group are the 5D Mark 4, 5D Mark 3 and 7D Mark 2, which are all quite similar to one another with larger dimensions, fixed LCD screens, bigger eye-pieces, deeper and taller grips (5D Mark 4 the deepest grip), large controls and dedicated AF multi-controllers.

The 5D Mark 4 is the only one of the three with a touchscreen.  The 5D Mark 4 also has an AF selection mode lever (which can be reconfigured) that makes switching AF groupings (between Single Point and 6 other options) very easy.  The 5D Mark 4 also has the most options when it comes to reconfiguring buttons and controls via the Custom Control screen.

The 7D Mark 2 also has its own AF selection mode lever but it has a smaller rear LCD screen than the 5d series bodies and it has no touch screen.

The 5D Mark 3  lacks the AF group selection lever of the other two bodies.  All three of these cameras are extensively covered in grippy rubber, making them comfortable to hold.  Their well-positioned controls make it easy to change settings without looking away from the viewfinder without making mistakes.  All three of them actually look and feel so similar that I have already mistakenly packed one instead of the other in my camera bag for a trip away, when I wasn’t paying close attention. 

In the other group are the 6D Mark 2 and 80D, with their more compact form and extensive touch-screen capability that comes with the swivel rear LCD.  The 6D Mark 2 and the 80D are quite similar to one another in size, though the grip of the 6D Mark 2 is the deeper and thicker of the two.  Compared to some of the mirrorless camera bodies like the Canon M5, the grip and controls are larger and more comfortable to use, and provide direct access to settings.  It may depend on the size of your hand whether you prefer the smaller sized cameras in this group (6D Mark 2 and 80D) or the larger cameras (5D Mark 4, 5D Mark 3 and 7D Mark 2).  With both the 6D Mark 2 and the 80D, the multi-purpose circular pad on the back of the camera is used to move the active focus point around the frame.  Whilst it does the job, I find it a bit fiddly and placed a bit low for my thumb.

Canon 80D and 6D Mark 2 with screens extended and swiveled

The touch screens found on the 6D Mark 2 and the 80D really make them both a lot more versatile for our kind of shooting.  We like how we can use the rear LCD both for composition whilst Live View shooting, as well as the way we can change our perspective by working with the camera away from our face.

Spotted hyaena, Botswana. Canon 6D Mark 2 and EF 24-70L f4 IS. Shutter speed 1/320sec at f6.3, iso 1250

The spotted hyaena image above this text shows how effective the 6D Mark 2 can be when used this way.

Canon 6D Mark 2, Canon 5D Mark 4, Canon 7D Mark 2, Canon 80D and Canon 5D Mark 3 in that order, showing size differences

Comparing the cameras in size, we find the 5D Mark 4 and 5D Mark 3 to be the biggest, with the 7D Mark 2 very similar in layout but just a fraction smaller.  The 6D Mark 2 and 80D are significantly smaller again in dimensions and similar to one another in size, although the 80D has a smaller grip.

All five of these bodies can be fitted with an optional battery grip, extending shooting time, and adding vertical controls, as well as creating a larger grip area.  Your own perception of which of these bodies is big or small or just right will obviously depend on the size of your hands.  It can also be influenced by the camera you used before coming to one of these bodies.  

Generally speaking, the 80D makes a good fit for users with small to medium-sized hands, whilst the 5D Mark 4 and 5D Mark 3 may be best suited to those with medium to large-sized hands.  The 6D Mark 2 and 7D Mark 2 are in the middle.

For shooting through the viewfinder we like the size of the 5D and 7D bodies with their deeper grips, and their dedicated AF multi-controllers.

Canon 80D and 6D Mark 2 showing similar size and overall shape

However, for Live View photography, which is making up an increasing percentage of our images, the 6D Mark 2 and the 80D stand out with the benefits brought about by their tilt and swivel rear screens.

Weight  

It is straightforward to compare the weights of these cameras.  Lighter is better for us.

80D – 730g

6D Mark 2 – 765g

5D Mark 4 – 890g

7D Mark 2 – 910g

5D Mark 3 – 930g

The smaller size and composite construction of the 6D Mark 2 and 80D are the main reasons that they are significantly lighter than the other 3 cameras.  It is clear that Canon are actively reducing weight in their cameras.  The loss of 40 g between the 5D Mark 4 and 5D Mark 3 provides an example, and this is despite the newer camera having a built-in GPS unit.  

Battery

All four of the newer bodies in this group use the same LP-E6N battery, which has increased capacity compared to the now discontinued LP-E6 battery (which comes standard in the discontinued 5D Mark 3.  Some time back, we fitted our own 5D Mark 3 with the LP-E6N.  Our typical usage pattern is 80-90 percent stills and about 10-20 percent Live View/Video.  We use the cameras on a range of Canon L-series lenses, right up to 500mm focal length, and we keep image stabilization switched on all the time.  Most of our shooting is done in Ai Servo focus mode.  We shoot RAW only and switch off all unnecessary processing steps in our cameras.  We spend only moderate amounts of time reviewing images taken, on the back LCD screen and don’t do any editing of images in the camera.

The 6D Mark 2, 80D and 5D Mark 3 usually get somewhere between 1200-1500 shots on a charge.  The 7D Mark 2 and the 5D Mark 4 typically deliver around 900-1100 shots on a charge.

It is very convenient to have all five camera bodies sharing the same battery type, and charger, which makes packing for field trips simple, and also saves weight in our bags.

Autofocus

Autofocus is one of the most important criteria for us when choosing our wildlife cameras.  From specifications alone, it isn’t always easy to have an idea of  which of these cameras has the best autofocus, or rather, which of them has autofocus good enough to do the job.  Amongst this group, autofocus might be considered a differentiator.

Viewfinder Autofocus

Canon 5D Mark 4 autofocus

Spotted hyaena, Kenya. Canon 5D Mark 4 and EF 100-400 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5.6, iso 400. Ai Servo, AF Expansion (one point plus four helpers)

Amongst these five cameras, we find that the 5D Mark 4 has the best autofocus for our kind of wildlife photography.  We shoot in Ai Servo virtually all the time, and like to use either the Single AF point, or one of the AF Expansion modes (One plus 4 helper points especially).  We find that it is precise, accurate, and quick to lock onto a subject.  It also has Canons newest 61-point AF grid, with the most extensive frame coverage (expanded vertically compared to the 5D Mark 3), amongst the other full-frame cameras in this group.  We make use of the Single AF Point as well as Expand AF Area (One AF Pt Plus 4 Helper Points) most of the time.  Sometimes we may use AF Zone on large subjects that are moving slowly but only when we have enough depth of field to cover for the reduced accuracy.

Canon 5D Mark 3 autofocus

Leopard, Tanzania. Canon 5D Mark 3 and EF 400 DO f4 IS ii plus 1.4x Extender. Shutter speed 1/125sec at f5.6, iso 1600. Ai Servo, Single Point AF

We find the AF systems in the older 5D Mark 3, also a 61-point AF grid, to be very close in actual performance to the best camera in the group.  When EF extenders are used, the 5D Mark 3 autofocus slows noticeably.  We make use of the Single AF Point as well as Expand AF Area (One AF Pt Plus 4 Helper Points) the most.  Sometimes we may use AF Zone on large subjects that are moving slowly but only when we have enough depth of field to cover for the reduced accuracy.

Canon 7D Mark 2 autofocus

African wild dog, Botswana. Canon 7D Mark 2 and EF 70-200 f2.8 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f4.0, iso 320. Ai Servo, Single Point AF

The 7D Mark 2 is equipped with a very good, 65-point AF grid, which is unique to that model but highly derivative of the AF systems in the 5D and 1D series.  In our hands, it seems to deliver results almost as good as the 5D Mark 3 for us.  We make use of Single AF Point as well as Expand AF Area (One AF Point plus 4 Helper points) the most.  Sometimes we may use AF Zone on large subjects that are moving slowly but only when we have enough depth of field to cover the reduced accuracy.

Something that we really like about the 7D Mark 2 autofocus setup is that on those occasions when we wish to reduce the number of AF points in our AF grid, going from 65 to 21 points still leaves all the outer AF points available for selection.  In this we prefer it to the 5D Mark 4, where switching from 61 points to 41 points means we lose access to the outermost ring of points.  Of course it is possible to work around this by focus and recompose, but we wish all the focus grid selection points worked like the 7D Mark 2 does. The 7D Mark 2 may even be slightly better than the 5D Mark 3 when using EF extenders.  Because of its smaller image sensor, the focus points extend further toward the edges of the 7D Mark 2 frame. 

Canon 6D Mark 2 autofocus

Mwanza rock agama, Tanzania. Canon 6D Mark 2 and EF 400 DO f4 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f7.1, iso 2500. Ai Servo focus, Single Point AF

The 6D Mark 2 has a 45 point AF grid, with good density of AF points for placing a focus point where you need it.  The spread of points does leave quite a large area of the image frame without coverage, so it can be good to become familiar with setting up a button on the camera to lock focus temporarily like the AF-ON button (in the Custom Controls screen) if you wish to remain in Ai Servo.  It is also possible to switch to One Shot focus and then lock and recompose that way if you find that your composition requires you to.  Users of the back-button focus method will be less affected by the narrower points spread.  Focus accuracy of the 45 point grid is good.  When it comes to the focus modes, we use our 6D Mark 2 almost exclusively in Single Point AF mode, and select the point manually.  The 6D Mark 2 does not have the same range of expanded AF point options like Expand AF area found in the 7D Mark 2 and 5D series but it does have AF Zone. Sometimes we may use AF Zone on large subjects that are moving slowly but only when we have enough depth of field to cover for the reduced accuracy.  

Canon 80D autofocus

Male lion, Kenya. Canon 80D and EF 400 f4 DO IS ii. Shutter speed 1/200sec at f4.0, iso 1000. Ai Servo focus, Single Point AF

 

The 80D has a 45 point AF grid, with good density of AF points for placing a focus point where you need it.  The AF grid appears to be identical to the one found in the 6D Mark 2.  Because of its smaller image sensor, the focus points extend further toward the edges of the 80D frame.  It can still be good to become familiar with setting up a button on the camera to lock focus temporarily like the AF-ON button (in the Custom Controls screen) if you wish to remain in Ai Servo and recompose.  It is also possible to switch to One Shot focus and then lock and recompose that way if you find that your composition requires you to.  Users of the back-button focus method will be less affected by the narrower points spread.  Focus accuracy of the 45 point grid is good.  When it comes to the focus modes, we use our 80D almost exclusively in Single Point AF mode, and select the point manually.  The 80D does not have the same range of expanded AF point options like Expand AF area found in the 7D Mark 2 and 5D series but it does have AF Zone. Sometimes we may use AF Zone on large subjects that are moving slowly but only when we have enough depth of field to cover for the reduced accuracy.  

Long-beaked common dolphin, South Africa. Canon 5D Mark 3 and EF 100-400L IS ii. Shutter speed 1/2000sec at f8.0, iso 800

 

Happily, Canon has implemented the main AI Servo autofocus tuning parameters in all five of these cameras.  These are: Ai Servo First/Second Image Priority, as well as Tracking Sensitivity, Accelerate/Decelerate Tracking and AF Point Auto Switching options are all to be found in the menus of all five cameras.  Even though the parameters are not all in the same place, they seem to work similarly and really allow the autofocus systems to be tailored to personal preferences or specific scenarios.  When it comes to Ai Servo function, we try to set up our cameras taking into account the following: Which lens: Subject speed: Subject angle: Background: Ambient light level: Ambient light direction.  We have written extensive and detailed posts on setting up Canon autofocus systems before on this website here . 

We have also shared our own in-depth setup of our viewfinder focus systems for the Canon 5D Mark 4 

and the Canon 7D Mark 2 

In our use, the 5D Mark 4, 5D Mark 3 and 7D Mark 2 focus the fastest.  Whilst the 6D Mark 2 and 80D are not slow to focus, they do take a fraction of a second longer to lock on in some circumstances.  When we are placing our focus point on a subject which has a background of similar contrast and tone to the subject, it can make it difficult for the camera to acquire precise focus.  In these conditions we find that the 5D Mark 4, 5D Mark 3 and the 7D Mark 2 make these difficult focus acquisitions with one positive drive, whereas the 6D Mark 2 and 80D may sometimes require a little more time.  When it comes to focus point groupings, all five of these camera bodies have the highly effective Single Point AF, but only the 5D Mark 4, 7D Mark 2, 5D Mark 3 have the Expanded AF point options, which consists of a Single AF point surrounded by four helper points or eight helper points.  We use the option with four helper points often called Expanded AF.

African skimmer, Chobe River, Botswana. Canon 80D and EF 400 DO f4 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/1600 sec at f5.6, iso 640

The 5D Mark 4, 5D Mark 3 and 7D Mark 2 have fast and mostly accurate initial AF pickup and all three of them do a reasonable good job of returning us enough keepers from sequences of fast moving subjects.  The 6D Mark 2 and the 80D can accurately focus on fast-moving subjects, just not as often as the other three cameras can.

When ambient light levels are very low, like at the very end of the daylight and long after sunset, the 5D Mark 4 and the 5D Mark 3 keep on focusing positively.  Next best is the  7D Mark 2, and then comes the 6D Mark 2 and 80D, slightly less accurate in Ai Servo and very low light situations.

Our evaluation of viewfinder autofocus performance of these cameras is based purely on Ai Servo operation. We don’t use One Shot focus mode enough to know how we would compare them in One Shot focus performance.  If you are mainly a One Shot focus user keep that in mind.

Our shooting experience with these five camera bodies comes from using them with L-series lenses attached.

Autofocus with 1.4x Extender

Helmeted guinea-fowl, Botswana. Canon 7D Mark 2 and EF 400 f4 DO IS ii with 1.4x EF extender. Shutter speed 1/500sec at f5.6, iso 1000. Click for larger view

All five cameras in this group work well when used with Canon’s EF 1.4x iii Extender and EF 2.0 iii Extender when combined with L-series lenses that can take extenders.  We sometimes use extenders with our EF 70-200L f2.8 IS ii, but more often with our EF 400 f4 DO IS ii and EF 500L f4 IS ii lenses.  On those three lenses, all of these bodies have all their focus points available and the maximum aperture becomes either f4.0 or f5.6.

Canon EF Extender 1.4x mounted to #F 100-400L IS ii and 5D Mark 3

If the 1.4x EF Extender is used on the EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii lens, the maximum aperture becomes f8.  All five of the cameras in this group can still perform viewfinder autofocus with this combination.  The 5D Mark 4 can still make use of all 61 of its autofocus points.  We find that the 5D Mark and 7D Mark 2 drive the autofocus a little better with this lens and extender combination than the other three cameras in this group.

The 6D Mark 2 and 80D function with a band of 27 autofocus points to choose from when attached to this lens and extender combination.

The 7D Mark 2 and the 5D Mark 3 have their autofocus limited to a single (centre) point alone with this lens and extender combination. 

Live View autofocus

Canon 6D Mark 2 using DPAF in Live View.

Four of the camera bodies in this group have Canon’s excellent DPAF sensors.  Before DPAF (Dual Pixel Auto Focus), Canon Live View autofocus was steady, but very slow and suited only to tripod work for us.  DPAF has completely changed that.

We find that the four DPAF cameras, being the 6D Mark 2, the 5D Mark 4, the 80D and the 7D Mark 2 all enjoy very precise, and very accurate Live View focusing.  Whenever we have scenarios suited to DPAF focusing on any of these 4 cameras, we prefer to use it over viewfinder focus.  It works best when the camera is held steady and also any time the subject is still or moving slowly.  In such circumstances it is very accurate, even more so than viewfinder focus.  For this comparison, the 5D Mark 3 does do Live View autofocus but it is not DPAF equipped.  It is therefore quite accurate, but very slow, and prone to ‘hunting’ back and forth when compared to the four newer DPAF cameras.  It is the weakest of these five cameras in everything to do with Live View focusing by some margin.

Canon 6D Mark 2 Live View DPAF with top left focus point selected to show extent of focus point coverage

 

Canon 6D Mark 2 Live View DPAF with bottom left focus point selected to show extent of focus point coverage

Using Live View DPAF allows a wide area for selecting the focus point.  Looking carefully at the two images above of the 6D Mark 2 rear LCD will reveal the extent of the focus point coverage.  Approximately 80 percent of the frame, both horizontally and vertically, is available for focusing.  This is significantly more frame coverage in Live View than is available through the viewfinder focus point system even of the 5D Mark 4 and the 7D Mark 2.  Amongst the four DPAF cameras, the approximate 80 percent horizontal and 80 percent vertical focus point coverage looks the same.  When using DPAF, there is little difference in focus point coverage between the 6D Mark 2,  the 5D Mark 4, the 80D and the 7D Mark 2, regardless of their different sensor sizes (35mm and 22mm).   

Canon 5D Mark 4 in Live View showing the three DPAF focus method options

All four of the DPAF cameras have three different focus point group options.  These options consist of a single point, a cluster of points which is moved by the user, and a tracking option where the camera decides what to focus on and uses groups of points.

Amongst the four cameras, the focus point groups and methods have slightly different names.  The options seem to function in similar ways despite having different names.  

On the 6D Mark 2 they are named: Live 1-point AF (single point), Smooth zone AF (the movable group) and Face (symbol) + Tracking (the face and subject tracking mode).

On the 5D Mark 4 they are named: Flexizone single (single point), Flexizone Multi (the movable group) and Face (symbol) + Tracking (the face and subject tracking mode).

On the 80D they are named: Flexizone single (single point), Flexizone Multi (the movable group) and Face (symbol) + Tracking (the face and subject tracking mode).

On the 7D Mark 2 they are named: Flexizone single (single point), Flexizone Multi (the movable group) and Face (symbol) + Tracking (the face and subject tracking mode).

 

Canon 6D Mark 2 in Live View showing the menu for the three DPAF focus method options

The 6D Mark 2, like the other three cameras, has three different focusing options choose from.  The single point option is on the far right.

Canon 6D Mark 2 in Live View showing the menu for the three DPAF focus method options with the movable group highlighted

On the 6D Mark 2, the movable group of focus points is called Smooth Zone AF.  In the menu listing this is the middle option.

Canon 6D Mark 2 in Live View showing the menu for the three DPAF focus method options with the tracking option highlighted

On the 6D Mark 2, the option with the symbol of a face (two dot eyes and a L-shape nose with smile line below) + Tracking is the AF method which is for recognizing and tracking a face in the frame.  This is the same for all the cameras in this group.  If it doesn’t find a face, it immediately switches to tracking whichever subject is of highest contrast or closest.

 

Canon 6D Mark 2 using DPAF Face + Tracking method with focus point selected by touch.

Most importantly, on the 6D Mark 2, the 80D and the 5D Mark 4, one can simply tap those cameras touch screens where we want it to focus, which then ‘tells’ the focus tracking to switch to whatever subject you select.  It will then try to stay on that subject and follow it however it moves around in the frame.  When using DPAF tracking on the 7D Mark 2, it is not possible without a touchscreen to set the starting focus point for the automatic tracking mode.

We also use the single point option on all four of the cameras.  The 6D Mark 2 and 5D Mark 4 have a smaller AF point, which makes for a more precise placement.  The single point option, called Live-1 Point AF on the 6D Mark 2 and Flexizone Single on the other three cameras can be important when using DPAF in conjunction with telephoto lenses and the associated reduction in depth of field, making focus placement and accuracy crucial.

When using DPAF on the 7D Mark 2 in Flexizone Single the focus point can be moved anywhere within the focusing area, including the corners.

When using DPAF on the 7D Mark 2 in Flexizone Multi or Face + Tracking, the area outside the L-shaped brackets on the rear LCD is not available for focus.

On the 6D Mark 2, the 80D and the 5D Mark 4, the area of the frame where focus can take place remains the same whether we are using the single autofocus point, or the group of movable points or the automatic (face) tracking option.  The full 80 percent of the frame is used.  On the 7D Mark 2, when using Flexizone single focusing, it too can focus over the full 80 percent DPAF area like the other two cameras.  However, when the 7D Mark is used in Flexizone Multi or Face Tracking, it gives up some focus area in each corner of the frame.   

Of the four DPAF cameras in this group, the 6D Mark 2 is the newest, and the 7D Mark 2 is the oldest.  It is clear to see this in that the 6D Mark 2 DPAF system is more sophisticated and can be configured in a greater variety of ways.

African elephant, Chobe River Botswana. Canon 6D Mark 2 and EF 24-70L f4 IS. Live View DPAF. Shutter speed 1/800sec at f5.0, iso 1000

Positives for DPAF focusing are its accuracy and precision.  Ease of use is also a big advantage, specially when combined with the touch functionality of the Swivel-Tilt screen found in the 6D Mark 2 and 80D.

When using Live View and DPAF for moving subjects, we find it easier to see to keep the focus point/s on the subject when using wide angle lenses.  With telephoto lenses and their narrow field of view and Live View DPAF, we get our best results with subjects that are not moving too rapidly.

We don’t find Live View and DPAF really suitable yet for very fast-moving subjects as the rear screen does not refresh quickly enough to make it easy to follow the subject motion with confidence.  When shooting burst in Live View, all of these cameras have a blackout period afterwards that is also not ideal for following fast action.  For fast action we much prefer using the regular viewfinder autofocus that all of these cameras 

Canon 7D Mark 2 in Live View shooting mode, showing shooting information including live histogram of current composition

All four of the DPAF cameras when using in Live View make it possible to have a lot of shooting information on the screen, including a histogram to help with exposure (before the shot is even taken) and an electronic level.

In Live View focusing the 6d2 and 80D are excellent, and their touch screen with swivel and tilt capability makes it possible to take images that are not possible with the other three cameras.

Nile crocodile, Chobe, Botswana. Canon 6D Mark 2 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Live View focus. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f7.1, iso 250

We frequently get unusual perspective or very low angle images by making use of these two cameras Live View focusing with their screens turned toward us so we can shoot without having the camera close to our faces.

Another benefit of the touch screen is the ability to use it to select a focus point and to trip the shutter just by touching it with a finger.  On those occasions when we are very close to a wild animal, or trying to be as quiet as possible so as not to disturb a nervous wild animal, the touchscreen makes is possible for us to limit our own movement and noise and keep shooting rather than disturbing the subject.

Our ranking of these cameras Live View focusing for our kind of still photography is as follows:

  1. 6D Mark 2
  2. 80D
  3. 5D Mark 4
  4. 7D Mark 2
  5. 5D Mark 3

DPAF Focus for Video

Video

Video capture capabilities in these cameras could well be its own blog post.  In order to not let this post become even longer, in summary, before DPAF, our video capture with our Canon dslr bodies was limited to just those subjects that where not moving much, or where moving in one restricted area.  The introduction of DPAF has changed that and we are now able to record video much more easily than before.  We are opportunistic video shooters, but having the capability built into our cameras has expanded what we are able to come with and raised the quality of our footage significantly.

All five of these Canon bodies can record video, but only the 5D Mark 4, the 6D Mark 2, the 80D and the 7D Mark 2 have DPAF focusing.  The 5D Mark 3 has very slow focus that hunts a lot.  All the advantages explained in this post that DPAF brings to still shooting, plus more (like being able to do controlled focus pulls) and AI Servo control in video mean that we much prefer using the newer bodies that are DPAF equipped.

The 5D Mark 4 and 6D Mark 2 have full-frame video capability at Full HD, (1920 x 1080 resolution), which we use the most.  There is also a 4K high-resolution option available on the 5D Mark 4 but it comes with a 1.7x crop feature.  The 80D and 7D Mark 2 also record good quality Full HD video, with their smaller sensors giving a tighter field of view.  

The swivel-tilt screens of the 6D Mark 2 and 80D mean that those two cameras are more versatile in how they can be deployed to capture video.

For our kind of video capture, we consider the 6D Mark 2 and the 5D Mark 4 to be the best options, followed by the 80D, then the 7D Mark 2 and lastly the 5D Mark 3. 

Although video capture is of secondary importance to Helena and I when in the field, we have still managed to record some footage in Full HD on our Canon dslr bodies that we where able to sell for commercial use, just because it is so easy to do so when working with the DPAF cameras.

Response

We define response by how quickly the camera focuses and trips the shutter then moves on to the next frame.  The 7D Mark 2 is the most responsive of these cameras by some margin when it comes to shutter lag and viewfinder blackout.  It is followed by the 5D Mark 4, and then the other three cameras all quite similar in their responsiveness with the 5D Mark 3 slightly ahead of the 6D Mark 2 and 80D.

Southern carmine bee-eater, Zambezi, Namibia. Canon 7D Mark 2 and EF 400 DO f4 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/3200sec at f7.1, iso 320

Speed

The 7D Mark 2 is easily the fastest camera in this group, at 10 frames per second and it is the only one in the group that actually feels fast to us.  Next comes the 5D Mark 4 at 7 fps which feels almost fast.  Then comes the 80D also at 7 fps.  The 6Dmk2 shoots at 6.3 fps and the 5Dmk3 at 6 fps.  There is not much difference to be felt in speed between the three slower cameras and the 7D Mark 2 stands out in this category.  It may be worth noting that the fastest shutter speed for  6D Mark 2 is 1/4000sec.  The other four cameras can all shoot at 1/8000sec.

Storage

Canon 7D Mark 2 showing dual SD and CF card slot configuration

 

The 5D Mark 4 and 7D Mark 2 have the same twin card configuration, with a CF drive and an SD drive next to each other.  If one is using the appropriate fast cards, the CF drive allows the camera to shoot for longer and clears a little faster. 

Canon 80D and 6D Mark 2 showing single SD card slot configuration

The 6D Mark 2 and 80D both have just a single SD card drive, which is of the same speed rating as the SD drive in the 5D Mark 4 and 7D Mark 2.  The 5D Mark 3 has one CF card drive, identical to the one in the newer 5D Mark 4, but the SD drive in the 5D Mark3 is very slow and will impede continuous shooting, even with a fast SD card in it.  If you need the security of two-card shooting, then the 5D Mark 4, 7D Mark 2 and 5D Mark 3 are the best choices.  For our wildlife photography, we usually just shoot to one card slot at a time, so it doesn’t matter if the camera has one card slot or not.  We use Sandisk Extreme cards, SD or CF and have yet to have a failure.

Sound

All five of these cameras have fairly quiet shutter actuations.  In terms of their relative ‘loudness’ when shooting, the 7D Mark 2 is perhaps the quietest of all.  Next is the 80D, then the 6D Mark 2, the 5D Mark 3 and the 5D Mark 4.  The shutter sounds of the 5 and 7-series cameras are shorter in duration, whereas the shutter sounds of the 80D and 6D Mark 2 last a little longer.

All five of the cameras have the option of a quiet mode in their Drive mode options.  In quiet mode, the 7D Mark 2 is the quietest, then the 80D, then the 6D Mark 2, 5D Mark 3 and 5D Mark 4, with all three of the full-frame bodies sounding the same.

Quiet is good for wildlife and for people, and all of these bodies are a lot quieter than our older Canon cameras as well as our 1DX series bodies.

Shutter

Canon give all of these cameras shutters a rough life-expectancy rating:

7D Mark 2 : 200 000 cycles

5D Mark 4 : 150 000 cycles

5D Mark 3 : 150 000 cycles

6D Mark 2 : Not available cycles (estimated between 100 000-150 000 cycles)

80D : 100 000 cycles

Sensor

In this group of five camera bodies, three have full frame sensors which are approximately 35mm wide and 24mm high.  They are the 5D Mark 4, the 6D Mark 2 and the 5D Mark 3.  

The other two cameras have much smaller sensors, which are approximately 22mm wide and 15mm high.  This sensor size is called APS-C.

 

In this image it can be seen how much larger the 35mm sensor is in the 6D Mark 2 compared to the 22mm sensor in the 80D.

Where the sensor technology is similar in its efficiency, then having a larger sensor area can deliver better image quality.  Sensor technology generally improves with newer models.  In this group, the newest camera is the 6D Mark 2, then the 5D Mark 4, then the 80D, then the 7D Mark 2 and then the 5D Mark 3 which is discontinued at the time of writing.  Whilst image quality, which is intrinsically linked to the sensor’s performance, is subjective, we believe that for our wildlife shooting requirements, full-frame sensors are an advantage.  At the same time, as sensor performance is improving with each new model or generation, we are finding that those cameras with smaller sensors (APS-C) like the 7D Mark 2 and 80D can now meet our requirements for our wildlife work, just not in so many scenarios (most especially low ambient light) as the cameras with bigger sensors can.  It is also worth noting that the image quality advantage that the newer 35mm sensor cameras (5D Mark 4 and 6D Mark 2) may not hold,  if their images are cropped more than 50 percent.

Image Quality

Its important to note that if you take the majority of your images at iso 100 or iso 200, then your image quality rankings of these cameras might differ from ours.  We shoot in natural light, and often in light that may be less than ideal.  We also handhold telephoto lenses and shoot high shutter speeds to counter camera shake.  We photograph moving subjects and need fast shutter speeds to freeze their motion.  Many of our wild subjects are also most active around sunrise and sunset.  All of this means that we shoot at quite high iso settings, and we place value on good image quality at higher iso settings.  Our most used ISO settings are from 640 to 3200 (obviously we will go higher when we need to) .  All our Canon cameras are set to shoot in RAW, and we process our images using Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop and Lightroom CC.  To reduce noise we use the noise reduction tools in these editing programs only.

African fish eagle, Chobe River, Botswana. Canon 80D and EF 100-400L IS ii. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f5.0, iso 400

In terms of colour and contrast, we find all of these cameras output very similar, up to iso 400.  Above iso 800, the 5D Mark 4 is just a little better, with the 6D Mark 2 very close, and then the 5D Mark 3, the 80D and the 7D Mark 2.  Colour and contrast become impacted the least on the 5D Mark 4 and 6D Mark 2 at iso settings of 3200 and above, whereas the other three cameras images degrade more noticeably.  This difference widens at iso settings above iso 3200.

African lion, Serengeti Tanzania. Canon 5D Mark 4 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/500sec at f4.0, iso 1000

When it comes to editing the raw files for these images, we find that the 5D Mark 4 allows for the most lightening (shadow recovery) of dark parts of an image.  The 6D Mark 2 is next best in this regard, then the other three cameras which are not quite as good at this.  Shadow recovery becomes less as iso settings go higher.

Assuming no cropping with the raw files from any of the five cameras, our rough guide to noise and high iso limits, approximately:

We use 5D Mark 4 files up to iso 6400 for print, and up to iso 12800 for the internet.

We use 6D Mark 2 files up to iso 5000 for print, and up to iso 12800 for the internet.

We use 5D Mark 3 files up to iso 3200 for print, and up to iso 6400 for the internet.

We use 80D files up to iso 2000 for print, and up to iso 5000 for the internet.

We use 7D Mark 2 files up to iso 1600 for print and up to iso 3200 for the internet.

African leopard, Botswana. Canon 6D Mark 2 and EF 400 DO f4 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/80sec at f4.0, iso 4000.

Your own evaluation of image quality may differ but the numbers detailed above are a general guideline.  People interpret image quality and noise in images according to their own preferences.  It is also not straightforward to compare image quality of cameras with different sensor sizes and pixel pitches.  There already exists much confusion and differing opinions online on how to compare image quality in digital cameras with different sensor sizes (35mm and 22mm in this group), different resolutions (between 30 megapixels and 20 megapixels in this group), and different individual pixel sizes.

Pixel sizes of the cameras in this group as are follows:

Canon 5D Mark 4 – 5.36 microns

6D Mark 2 – 5.7 microns

5D Mark 3 – 6.25 microns

80D – 3.7 microns

7D Mark 2 – 4.1 microns

When it comes to photographing really high-speed subject matter, like big cats leaping, or wild dogs running, or fast-flying birds, we believe that we get a slightly higher keeper rate of really sharp images from our Canon cameras that have larger pixels than those with smaller pixels.  How much of a difference in keeper rate is hard to measure as there are very many variables.  In this group of five cameras, the 5D Mark 3 has the largest individual pixels, followed by the 6D Mark 2, the 5D Mark 4, the 7D Mark 2 and the 80D.  We try to make an effort to be extra steady in our stance or grip when using the cameras with smaller pixels.

Canon Europe have this on their website: “As the resolution of cameras increases, and pixel sizes decrease, you may find that there is a need to use faster shutter speeds. The smaller pixels in cameras mean that any slight subject movement during the exposure is more likely to show up as subject blur – this is because it doesn’t have to move as far to affect more pixels. To avoid this just use a faster shutter speed than you would previously have done. For example, if you previously used 1/500sec, you could now try using 1/1000sec or faster.

White-chinned Petrel South Africa. Canon 5D Mark 3 and EF 100-400 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/3200 sec at f7.1, iso 800

We generally shoot faster shutter speeds than 1/1000sec if something is moving fast anyway.

Banded mongoose, Botswana. Canon 5D Mark 4 and EF 100-400 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f5.6, iso 1600

Cameras with sensors that have small pixels bring an advantage on those occasions when the subject is far away and the image has to be cropped.  In such instances the 80D is best, followed by the 7D Mark 2, then the 5D Mark 4, 6D Mark 2 and 5D Mark 3.

Our overall image quality ranking of these cameras for our kind of work is as follows:

  1. 5D Mark 4
  2. 6D Mark 2
  3. 5D Mark 3
  4. 80D
  5. 7D Mark 2

Resolution

Spotted hyaena, Serengeti, Tanzania. Canon 5D Mark 4 and EF 500L f4 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f7.1, iso 640

The 5D Mark 4 has the highest resolution at 30 megapixels.  An un-cropped 5D Mark 4 image is 6720 pixels on the horizontal (long) side and 4480 pixels high (high) side. A vertical crop at a regular 3:2 aspect ratio of a horizontal frame from this camera gives an A4 sized image (such as might be used for a magazine) of 13.4 megapixels.

Black-backed jackal, Botswana. Canon 6D Mark 2 and EF 100-400L f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f6.3, iso 400.

The 6D Mark 2 has the next highest resolution at 26 megapixels.  An un-cropped 6D Mark 2 image is 6240 pixels on the horizontal (long) side and 4160 pixels vertical (high) side. A vertical crop at a regular 3:2 aspect ratio of a horizontal frame from this camera gives an A4 sized image (such as might be used for a magazine) of 11.5 megapixels.

Male lion, Kenya. Canon 80D and EF 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS ii. Shutter speed 1/15sec at f5.0, iso 2500

The 80D has the next highest resolution at 24 megapixels.  An un-cropped 80D image is 6000 pixels on the horizontal (long) side and 4000 pixels vertical (high) side.  A vertical crop at a regular 3:2 aspect ratio of a horizontal frame from this camera gives an A4 sized image (such as might be used for a magazine) of 10.7 megapixels.

 

Leopard, Okavango, Botswana. Canon 5D Mark 3 and EF 100-400L IS ii. Shutter speed 1600sec at f5.0, iso 640

The 5D Mark 3 has the next highest resolution at 22 megapixels.  An un-cropped 5D Mark 3 image is 5760 pixels on the horizontal (long) side and 3840 pixels vertical (high) side. A vertical crop at a regular 3:2 aspect ratio of a horizontal frame from this camera gives an A4 sized image (such as might be used for a magazine) of 9.8 megapixels.

Male cheetah, Botswana. Canon 7D Mark 2 and EF 400 f4 DO IS ii. Shutter speed 1/125sec at f4.0, iso 1000. Click for larger view

The 7D Mark 2 has the next highest resolution at 20 megapixels.  An un-cropped 7D Mark 2 image is 5472 pixels on the horizontal (long) side and 3648 pixels vertical (high) side. A vertical crop at a regular 3:2 aspect ratio of a horizontal frame from this camera gives an A4 sized image (such as might be used for a magazine) of 8.9 megapixels.  

Metering

The 5D Mark 4 has the most sophisticated metering system amongst this group of cameras, with the 7D Mark 2 close behind.  We use Evaluative Metering on all our Canon cameras and we keep a close eye on the histogram between shots, just to make sure our exposures are where we want them.  We find that we photograph too many subjects with both bright and dark tones mixed in them, at close and far distances, for Spot metering to be a reliable option for us.  Metering 

Reliability

Of these five cameras, we have used used the 5D Mark 3 bodies the most, followed by the 7D Mark 2 and 5D Mark 4.  We have not anywhere near the same number of frames through the 6D Mark 2 and 80D bodies.

Our 5D Mark 3 and 5D Mark 4 bodies have been excellent when it comes to reliability.  We have never experienced even a single failure of any kind with them.  We have seen a few AF multi-controllers collapse, on the back of 5D Mark 3 bodies, but never on any of the three 5D Mark 3 bodies that we owned and used heavily for a few years.

Our 7D Mark 2 bodies have on very rare occasions, shown some sort of glitch when the camera failed to properly switch on.  All that was needed to solve the problem was to switch off the camera, remove and re-insert the battery and the media cards, remove and refit the lens, and everything was perfect again.  It has happened perhaps twice in a year with our 7D Mark 2 bodies and only to one of them.

The 6D Mark 2 and 80D have not skipped a beat, and not shown any glitches or niggles so far, although we don’t set out to use them as heavily as we use the other cameras.

Other Features

Flicker mode which times exposure to sync with certain types of artificial light, and can be a powerful, time-saving, image-quality feature if you shoot under artificial lights, is only available in the 5D Mark 4, 6D Mark 2, 80D and 7D Mark 2.

Exposure compensation whilst in Manual mode, and with Auto-Iso engaged.  This is our preferred mode for our kind of wildlife photography.  We use it in the four newer cameras but its not possible in the 5D Mark 3.

Metering in One Shot focus mode on the 6D Mark 2 has more options than any of the other cameras in this group.  Using Custom Function I: Exposure, no 8 Meter Mode in that cameras menu makes it possible to choose between having focus and metering lock when shooting in One Shot Focus mode, or just focus (the camera keeps metering when recomposing).  Only on the 6D Mark 2 can it be set individually for each of the four metering modes

In a post of this length it was not possible to fully describe every single feature in these five cameras, as they are all have deep menu systems and can be configured for many kinds of shooting requirements.  At this stage we don’t make use of GPS and keep it turned off in our cameras, and we don’t use the Wi-Fi function either.

Lenses Used

We use these Canon camera bodies on the following lenses: EF-S 10-18mm IS STM, EF 16-35 L f4 IS, EF 24-70 L f4 IS, EF 70-200 L f2.8 IS ii, EF 70-300 L f4-5.6 IS ii, EF 100-400 L f4.5-5.6 IS ii, EF 300 L f2.8 IS ii, EF 400 DO f4 L IS ii and EF 500 L f4 IS ii.

Conclusion

All of these cameras can take and do take images good enough for our requirements:  fine art prints, for magazines, for our website and for social media output.  But, as we have pointed out through this post, there are significant differences between them.

 

Below, we have summed up their core attributes, in order from newest camera to oldest camera:

 

6D Mark 2

Pros

Very good 35mm full-frame image quality, strong low-light capability, best Live View DPAF capability combined with swivel-tilt touch screen in a lightweight and compact form, intuitive to use.  Good resolution for printing.

Cons

Lack of AF multi-controller, moderate frame coverage for viewfinder autofocus points.

5D Mark 4

Pros

Best 35mm full-frame image quality in this group, strongest low-light capability, best viewfinder autofocus, excellent control set with deepest configuration options.  Strong Live View DPAF performer with fixed touch screen and robust construction.  Raw images have best dynamic range amongst these five cameras.  Best resolution for printing.

Cons

Average buffer size 

80D

Pros

Best APS-C sensor image quality although not as good as the full-frame cameras in this group.  Very good Live View DPAF capability combined with swivel-tilt touch screen.  Lightest and most compact camera body in the group.  Intuitive to use specially for those upgrading from entry-level or compact cameras.

Cons

No dedicated AF multi-controller, low light image quality compared to full-frame cameras.

7D Mark 2

Pros

The 7D2 is perhaps the best wildlife action camera amongst them, if you find the image quality from its APS-C sized sensor acceptable, and even more so if you don’t shoot too much in very low light. If you like the image quality, then you don’t need much more than what this camera can offer. In this group, its strengths are its fast and accurate autofocus, deep buffer and by far the fastest frame rate.  The tough build and highly-configurable control set, combined with good Live View DPAF performance (not quite as sophisticated as the three newer cameras) make it the best APS-C sensor Canon for us.

Cons

Low-light image quality compared to full-frame cameras.  Lack of touch screen.

5D Mark 3

Pros

Fast and accurate viewfinder autofocus with strong 61 point coverage, good controls including AF multicontroller, bright viewfinder, decent resolution and good 35mm image quality at low to medium iso settings.  

Cons

Weak Live View shooting, no Exposure compensation in M-mode and Auto-Iso. 

 

Summary

We receive a good number of questions from people who are looking to find out more about one or another, of the cameras in this group.  Getting the five cameras together and discussing some of their core capabilities, and strengths and weaknesses, as we find them for our photography, might just make it easier to decide which one is best suited to each photographers own preferences and requirments.

 

 

About the Author:

I am a guide and a photographer, with a deep interest in all things to do with nature. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but travel often to wild places whilst leading photographic safaris, and enjoying the outdoors.

12 Responses to “6D Mark II, 5D Mark IV, 7D Mark II or 80D, which Mid-range Canon dslr for Wildlife Photography”

  1. Charles Hopkins Says: May 21, 2018 at 8:38 am

    Many thanks Grant for a most useful and comprehensive review.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 21, 2018 at 8:41 am

      Hi Charles, thanks for the feedback!
      Cheers
      Grant

  2. Hakan Persson Says: May 21, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Thanks Grant,
    I was searching for a comparison like this for a while. I need to upgrade from my 5mkII before my next Bots-trip in October and I was hesitating if I should buy a 5mkIV or a 7mkII. I think you nailed my need of low light image quality and fast AF speed in your review.
    Thanks again!
    Kind regards,
    Hakan

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 21, 2018 at 6:30 pm

      Thanks for letting me know that the post was useful, that was exactly what I was hoping for when I wrote it 🙂
      Cheers
      Grant

  3. Robert Brauns Says: May 22, 2018 at 12:46 am

    Hello Grant,

    Great review as always. I have read many of your guides, particularly on set up for AI servo! I am a regular visitor to Southern Africa for 2-3 months at a time. I have used the 6D, 7D2 (sold it as it was a bad copy and Canon would not fix or replace it) and currently use two 5D4’s.

    I noticed many images (particularly) in Botswana, you are at or below eye level. How are you achieving that composition? Out of vehicle? On foot with guide?

    Cheers, Robert Brauns

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 22, 2018 at 7:21 am

      Hi Robert
      Thanks for the feedback. Also glad you get to enjoy your cameras in the Southern African wilderness, it is a fantastic place for wildlife photography. There are a number of ways that we get eye level or lower with our images – some vehicles we use have openings on the side (no door) or a cutaway, we make use of the tilt-swivel screen DPAF to be able to hold cameras away from our face and hang it down at ground level. Most of the time also we work in private concessions and conservancies that are adjacent to National Parks but where there is more leeway for photography. Certain places and certain species can also be photographed from the ground in some of these places :-). We really really like the perspective that shooting from eye level brings!
      Hope that helps explain somewhat
      Cheers
      Grant

      • Robert Brauns Says: May 22, 2018 at 3:24 pm

        Hello Grant,

        Thanks for the explanation. Now I am motivated to build a rig to be able to mount a camera on the side of the game drive vehicle to get a lower prospective! Most of the time I self drive in a HiLux, but later this year I will be spending a lot of time in South Luangwa Park in Zambia working with a camp who wants to add photographic specific tours in a open land cruiser rigged with built in camera mounts, etc.

        And nothing beats being in the bush with all of it’s residents!

        Best wishes,
        Robert

        • Grant Atkinson Says: May 22, 2018 at 3:31 pm

          Hi Robert
          Yes, there are a number of camps now starting to have game drive vehicles that are specially rigged for photography but for many of them that consists mainly of providing mounts or supports at each seat. That can be very helpful for keeping your camera supported and steady but at the same time can be restrictive in that all your shots are taken from the same height. Where and when it is possible to change the perspective by getting lower we always try 🙂
          Cheers
          Grant

  4. Fiona Butchart Says: May 22, 2018 at 5:02 am

    Thank you very much for this study.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 22, 2018 at 7:01 am

      Thanks for that, Fiona
      Cheers
      Grant

  5. Martin Brasg Says: May 22, 2018 at 8:47 am

    Very well written comparison review. It strengthens the case that I made the correct decision in choosing the 5D mark 4 for my wildlife photography. Grant, as always your written and spoken explanations are clear and concise. Easily understood by both novice and pro alike. Keep up the great work. Hope to see you in the bush real soon.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm

      Hi Martin, thanks for that positive feedback :-)..always good to know the posts are helpful!
      Cheers
      Grant

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