Welcome to a boring photography post. If you're not interested in f stops and stuff like that step away now!
The more I use the Canon 80D the more I like it. And also the more I use it the more it irritates me. Not because it is no good, far from it, but simply because I don't find it as natively easy to use as my other camera which is a Canon 1DX. Fundamentally all cameras are simply an interaction between light and a light-sensitive sensor. You control the sensitivity of that sensor to light (ISO), you control how much light hits it (Aperture) and for how long (Shutter speed), and that's it. Three very simple ingredients, and for the most part you actually only use two of them, reducing all photography to the dynamic relationship between shutter speed and aperture. Therefore in theory all cameras are the same, and provided you are able to control just two variables (indeed mostly just one whilst the camera deals with the other) you have all that you need. A good photographer should be able to take a good photo with any camera. Would that it were that simple.
The weather this weekend has mostly been completely miserable and I left the house just once for an uninspiring, damp and camera-less stroll around Wanstead Park and Flats. In contrast last Sunday was rather pleasant so I bolted my new 80D onto my 800mm lens and set forth on a mission to a local pond. I was interested to know if my monopod technique could stand up to such a large increase in focal length (800mm with the 1DX but an astonishing 1280mm with the 80D). Range was one of the primary reasons for investing in the 80D. The other was weight, so in that respect the 800mm lens was rather a poor choice, particularly as I ended up lugging it over three miles across Wanstead Flats.
In short the answer is a resounding "Yes". Yes I can deal with a big increase in effective focal length and maintain an acceptably sharp image - my technique holds up. In fact I do significantly better on the monopod than I do on a tripod (I failed miserably last Saturday for instance), something I've noted before with other camera/lens combinations. It is slightly more nuanced than this though. Flight photography is completely off the table for instance, I can't manage it. I can barely manage it with the 1DX, and this is simply a step too far. Even finding a perched bird in the frame is significantly harder at 1280mm, and in situations with birds moving quickly through a landscape I think I would struggle to the point I would miss opportunities. When you add the various physical niggles I have with the 80D such as the physically smaller viewfinder and the placement of dials and buttons, photography starts to become really quite hard.
But I did begin to adapt. I found that the new way in which I had to select focus zones and focus points started to feel a little more natural after a time. I also found myself gaining more confidence in the AF system after reviewing images - images I did not think I had nailed were in fact spot on. The relative coverage area of a single focus point on the 80D is significantly larger than on the 1DX, which initially had me concerned with its ability to focus precisely. In practice though provided you are in the right general area, ie somewhere near the eye of the bird for the most part, this worry is unfounded and the focus is pretty spot on. I found that it became easier to flip the camera into portrait mode and get my finger and thumb placement correct. And I also started to get to grips with the change in balance caused by the much lighter camera, and unconsciously started to support the lens differently. In short I am getting there. It still does not feel completely natural like the 1DX does, but I have put so many thousands of frames through 1 series bodies (whose design through various models has remained so consistent) for so many years that this is to be expected.
The reach is as impressive as I had hoped it would be. For large birds like Gulls and Ducks it was actually too much and I had to back off. As these will be my major targets this winter I don't expect to be using the 800mm very much if at all, it was just overkill. For passerines however, such as the House Sparrows that live at Jubilee Pond, it was just fantastic. It was equally useful with a drake Teal on Alexandra Lake. Teal are very small Ducks that are usually quite wary. This particular one was about as friendly a bird as I've ever seen locally, and the reach of the 80D + 800mm allowed me to stay sufficiently far away to not spook the bird yet still have it large in the frame. The light had deteriorated somewhat by then, but ISO 800 is pretty good and kept me in the game. Even 1600 was decent, although it is telling that of the images I kept about 90% used 800. I wish that Blogger were able to display the real photos rather than compressed low-res versions saved via Google Images. What I post here are 1000 pixels wide, or 850 pixels tall, and frankly rather flabby. The originals are incredibly crisp and are 6000 pixels wide! Anyway, I still have a lot more to do and this is only my third or fourth outing with it, but in summary I am impressed with what it can do albeit not yet fully a convert.