Musings on Photography

Leica M8, Canon Eos-5d in the landscape world.

Posted in equipment by Paul Butzi on June 5, 2007


Colin Jago has an interesting post here, about the M8  and it’s place in the world, in which he writes

The M8 belongs on a tripod. It is the smallest, lightest, most practical medium format camera every made. For field work it replaced, for me, a 645 camera and it gives better results faster. It goes to more interesting locations because it is better made and lighter. It is superior in every way. The ‘cons’ that Mike rightly lists do not matter in this context, and what is more, in comparison with most medium format kit they would be seen as plusses, not minuses in the evaluation.

and then a bit further on

It isn’t the only camera in the medium format replacement class. For portable landscape work the Canon 5D seems to be the favourite. The 1D cameras are on the large side and chip sizes from the other makers are a bit small (which isn’t necessarily so much just about the chip quality as the focal length needed).

Colin’s description of the M8 and the 5d as what I think of as ‘medium format’ cameras rings true for me.  When I bought the 5d, I had been struggling with the desire for a medium format camera for several years.  Most of the cameras I considered were sorts of blends between large format and medium format – the Horseman SW612 with rise/fall, for instance, was a camera I considered buying for a long time.  I even experimented with the 6×12 format fairly extensively with my 4×5.  And when I bought the 5d and discovered how really good the image quality was, the desire for a medium format camera vanished completely.  The 5d fills that need nicely.

Colin continues

If this is your sort of photography then you have a real choice to make as between the M8 and the 5D. There are some substantial practical differences such as the need for mirror lock up or not. Or the availabilty of zoom lenses or not. Or the depth of field effects that SLR viewfinders create. Or the lack of precision in framing that rangefinder viewfinders create. Or the availability of specialist lenses such as shift lenses. Or the lack of an anti-aliasing filter. Or the ability to use lenses from history with different optical signatures.

Colin’s done a good job of identifying the differences.  Everyone’s prioritized list will, of course, have different stuff on it, and the stuff will be in a different order.

To my eye, the most appealing thing about the M8 is the lenses.  Old lenses, new lenses, fast lenses, lenses with nice out of focus rendering.  And, most of all, small lenses.  The smallest lens I own for the Canon EOS-5d is larger than the largest lens I own for a Leica M camera.

But the balance tips the other direction, too.  I like the outstanding lack of noise of the 5d – and in fact, this might be the feature of the camera I like the most.  I like the larger sensor, but primarily because it let me buy into the digital SLR world without investing in new lenses.  I like the availability of image stabilized lenses.  I like the availability of zoom lenses, too, although this came as something of a surprise.

But in the final analysis, no amount of feature checklisting is going to tell anyone which camera is going to ring their chimes.  In the end, it always seems to come down to some alchemical synergism between the way the camera works, the available lenses, the image characteristics of the lenses and the sensor, and the difficult to articulate preferences of the photographer that determines whether a camera hits the sweet spot.

4 Responses

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  2. […] all boils down to two choices, the Canon 5D or Leica […]

  3. Martin Doonan said, on June 7, 2007 at 7:24 am

    I struggle a bit with this 5D (or any other small format digital0 as replacement for larger format (in this case MF) argument. Surely there is some sort of print size inherent in the argument?

    Looking at my scans of film, my scanner (not big or expensive) continues to develop detail up to 3600dpi : that’s 12:1 enlargement to print. e.g. for 645, that would yield a 26″ print. Scanner goes up to 4800dpi (35″). Are you saying that the 5D enlarges to 26″ (18:1) happily? For me, that seems a little incredibile but happy to be proved wrong.

    Of course, for smaller prints (say 18″ – 12:1 for 5D) I’d assume parity holds.

    *I assume 300ppi in print for calcs.

  4. Paul Butzi said, on June 7, 2007 at 8:25 am


    I wouldn’t say that the 5d enlarges happily to 26″ (long dimension). But neither would I say that a 645 negative would, either.

    Part of the confusion about scaling of prints is that the quality of pixels from scanning film is not the same as the quality from the 5d.

    see for more details.

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