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Old Dec 22, 2006, 4:19 AM   #1
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Lately I have found myself mostly using a single lens with my 20D; my 28mm f1.8. This attachment to a wide-normal fast aperture lens made me wonder about what my next camera should be.

I have enough in my photography fund now to consider "upgrading" from my 20D.

The 5D seems like the obvious choice, but I've been very interested in the Leica M8 too. So I went to the shops yesterday to try both of them out.

From extensive internet comparisons we know image quality is more or less a draw, and excellent in both cases. The 5D is superior at ISO800 and higher. Below that the extra sharpness of the Leica lenses and lack of low-pass filter gives exceptional image quality. We know about the weak IR filter and associated colour problems. To me this is not a deal breaker on the M8, it's probably actually better for BW shots and not insurmountable for colour. The dynamic range seems very similar, probably the edge goes to the 5D. So if image quality is six-of-one and half-a-dozen of the other and both are superb, the decision can't be about that.

Here are my thoughts after handling them.

The Leica was clearly an incredible piece of equipment. I've never used a rangefinder, so it felt very strange, and of course I know that there would be a learning curve, so I have allowed for that.

The first disappointment was the viewfinder. Although the viewfinder was very large and bright the actual eyepiece was tiny and I had to really mash my face up against it to see well. I wear spectacles and it felt very awkward. The issue of seeing more than you can capture would require some adjustment; realising that you only get what is in the framing lines is very different to the wysiwyg nature of the SLR. But I'm sure I'd adjust to that fairly easily.

The focus ring was incredibly smooth and the lenses were amazingly small. I did find though that the lack of a focus "ring" was weird. The lenses have protruberance that your finger sort of rests on to change the focus; I'm sure once you get used to it it works very well, but my immediate reaction was that it was much less ergonomically friendly than the focus rings on SLR lenses. For whatever reason I don't like holding my left hand underneath the camera with the palm up. I know that's how you are taught to hold an SLR too, but it has always felt awkward to me. So I don't. My right hand carries most of the weight, and my left hand is often used on the lens, but with my palm facing towards the right, not upwards. Unless you have very long spidery fingers that it is impossible to hold the M8 this way. You simply have to hold it with your left palm underneath the body to reach the focus knob/lever. The other issue with focus is how easy it is to focus through the viewfinder, the focus screen is different to the old "split screen" style that I was used to on an SLR, though perhaps it operates on the same principle. In practice I guess you get used to setting the focus to hyperfocal by default, when you take your eye from the viewfinder in preparation for the next shot, so you minimise the travel required on the focus adjustment. In terms of ease of seeing what was in focus I found it depended very much on the subject matter and contrast; the human brain has the same problems as AF algorithms I guess. After 5 minutes I felt that there would always be certain types of subject matter that would be very difficult to get correct focus on, but for normal shooting and certainly people shots it would not take too long to adjust.

One hears so much about how quiet the Leica is compared to the an SLR. Well from what I saw yesterday the differences are greatly exaggerated. Now it is certainly true perhaps that the M8 is not as quiet as the other M cameras because it has a different (metal) shutter, but the noise overall was certainly as intrusive as the 5D. It is a slightly softer but much longer sound.

After an SLR though it felt odd in my hands, very unbalanced. All the weight is in the body, the lenses are tiny. Also it is a very square boxy item with a tiny button for the shutter. The button is placed on top of the camera, and so falls less easily to the finger than the buttons on SLR grips which are angled at 45 degrees away from the vertical.

So the basic ergonomics were a big surprise, I felt like my wrists were twisted at awkward angles and I found it very hard to see into the viewfinder with my specs on.

The build quality was exceptional, it was clearly a step above everything else I've ever held in terms of the materials and engineering.

The screen and menus were very nice.

The other real issue is which lens to use. With the M7 it would be a very easy selection. 35mm f1.4. But which lens to choose with the 1.33 crop factor? 35/1.3 => 26mm. So a 28mm would be close enough. They do have a Summicron 28mm f2.0 which would have to be sufficient. It's a pity to have to swallow the loss of one stop with the relatively poor high-ISO performance though.

Price in the UK: Body (£2500), Summicron 28mm f2 (£1900) = £4400.

Availability is very limited, if I put in an order today I could have one in April sometime.

It comes in two versions, silver and black. I would go for black I think, the silver looks too much like it's a piece of jewellery, though it really is quite beautiful.

So then I wondered off to have a look at the 5D.

Things seemed slightly odd when I first looked through the viewfinder, but once I had adjusted the diopter back to centre everything looked fantastic! Beware demo model settings. The viewfinder was excellent, big and bright. Certainly I felt it did not suffer at all in comparison to the Leica. And it was MUCH easier to use with my spectacles on.

Of course I had nothing really to adjust to, it was just like a 20D, just a bit better in every way. The balance with the 24-105L felt fantastic, I know it's heavier and slightly larger than the 20D but it felt perfect, better than the 20D in fact. This makes sense, because I absolutely hate the way the small rebels feel in my hands. I hadn't realised that I would prefer to keep on going past the 20D feel though. But I did. It felt great and very balanced.

With my slightly eccentric way of using my left hand when I hold the camera the extra room and weight work very well.

The AF was noticably better than my 20D + 17-85. Faster and more sure. The extra brightness and size of the viewfinder also makes MF much better, and in fact helps with giving a sense of sureness about the accuracy of the AF.

The 3-colour histogram was great, the LCD was better than the 20D, but perhaps not as good as the Leica.

It felt RIGHT.

Price in the UK: 5D + 24-105L = £2250.
35mm f1.4L = £900
Total = £3150

Cameras and lenses are freely available in stores. So it's pretty clear where the value-for-money lies. And of course I have a bunch of Canon and Sigma lenses already that will be compatible as well as my Sigma flashgun.

So it seems that the Leica's main appeal is its romantic value, or snob value perhaps; for practicality and value for money the Canon is miles ahead. If I had fallen in love with the Leica after handling it, it would have been a different story. But the 5D has won my heart.

Having said that however I think I am going to wait until early next year; if they bring out a 5D MkII with anti-dust and Digic III that will do me fine. If not then hopefully the new year will bring a price reduction, or return of the EU rebates.

It does make me rather sick that the UK price is basically double the US price, it would actually be cheaper to fly to NY and buy the camera than buy it locally. But of course one is then without a warrantee and can still get slapped with VAT on entry if unlucky.

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Old Dec 22, 2006, 9:42 AM   #2
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I know this will start a cry from the boo-birds but if you want to save a bit try the Tamron 28-75 instead of the 24-105L. It is one third the price and has an edge in sharpness. My copy seldom comes off the 5D. It is my choice for Landscapes and has won a place as my portrait lens. The increased dynamic range of the 5D is a natural with this little Tamron lens, you just have to try one and see the difference in the prints. Since making this purchase I've found several others using this combo with the same results, it is no fluke. Normally by name and price point I would have dismissed this lens but I'm verry glad that I did not do so.
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Old Dec 22, 2006, 12:37 PM   #3
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The Tokina also is a classic in the FF for this range:
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Old Dec 26, 2006, 11:04 AM   #4
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Hi Peri!

I have not been able to be online much these last weeks (as I'm soon moving back to Australia, from Romania). But I just want to say I really appreciated reading what you wrote about both cameras, the differences in "systems", explanations about ergonimics, personal opinion on lens / viewing / framing, and other things.

It really was great to read the details and how you explained things presented I think a fairly good base from which other folk (like myself) can glean some factors too. I think (like you) I'm fairly sold on the DSLR architecture / system as being the one for me. And as I've got Canon lenses, I also think I'll stick with Canon. At this stage I see when (or if) I ever upgrade whether a 5D (or 5Dmk II or 6D or whatever) or a 40D type camera will be the one for me.

Again, thanks for your time. Hope you had (And are having) a great Christmas / Festive season. Hope to see more of you here on Steve's Forums during 2007, when I (and my wife and camera gear) will God willing be safely Down Under, and when we'll have some more internet time... hopefully on broadband too! (which currently cost less in Australia than slower dial-up speed connections do in Romania!)

All the best,


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