posted on Aug 25, 2009 at 2:27PM
Head-2-Head Review: Leica M8.2 vs. Canon EOS 5D Mk II
Controls & OperationBy Ted Dillard
The Leica has possibly the most unique feel of any camera made. This may be the single most important aspect of the M8/M8.2, and for many it is undeniably emotional. The camera comes from a legacy of solid, compact mechanical (even brass, once upon a time) devices that felt, sounded and worked as much like fine clocks as cameras.
Even when cameras were all mechanical, the Leica M series was in a different class of craftsmanship and feel, and now, in a time at which no mechanical 35mm-style cameras are made, it is a rare treat to hold and operate this kind of machine. This Leica feels every bit as fine as a 1972 vintage M2-R. While there are some differences between the controls on an M8 and the older film-based M cameras, the veteran Leica photographer will feel as comfortable with the M8 as any M camera ever. Leica has kept true to their legacy of creating unique photographic machines. If there is truly a Leica “mystique,” a big part of it comes from simple, quality design and construction.
The third finger, or the middle and third together, will find the focus handle on the lens. Simply by toggling that up and down on the barrel of the lens, joystick-style, you can slide the lens into focus. This camera, like every Leica M camera, is designed to handle.
From the top, you could be looking at any venerable Leica with its jewel-like Summarit-M lenses. The feel, the fit, the precision of snapping an M lens into a Leica bayonet mount is something that just cannot be described, and will make even the least “techie/gear-head” photographer smile unabashedly. If you have ever picked up a lens from a modern camera and winced at the cheap, plastic feel, you owe it to yourself to hold a Leica M lens. Beyond the plain old craftsmanship of these lenses, they are remarkably simple and to the point. You get glass elements and metal helical gears. No motors, no funny stuff, just glass and metal.
Only once you get to the back of the camera do you find Leica giving full nods to the Digital Age. This is Leica’s version of digital controls and menus—different to be unique, but sensible and intuitive enough to work. More details below.
The Canon 5D Mark II has a remarkably advanced design. It is well balanced and handles like a dream. The controls and layout conform to standards across the Canon line. It is nothing less than what we would expect from the top of the market in digital SLR cameras.
The camera is built on a, magnesium body enclosing all the mechanisms and electronics. This is pretty standard fare for high-end cameras, and fits well, even in large hands.
The grip is well proportioned and your trigger-finger heads naturally to the right places, although for some tastes, the control dials could be placed a little more accessibly. The top dial is a little set back from the shutter and the thumbwheel is a bit of a stretch for they thumb. Obviously, this placement of controls is derivative of the Canon philosophy, and anyone who is shooting with a Canon for more than an hour or so is going to feel that it is working and handling flawlessly, but not everyone will feel that it “fits like a glove.
Getting “behind the wheel” of the Canon 5D M2 is like getting behind the wheel of any good new car. You feel comfortable, you can find all the switches and controls, it has great handling, but, unlike with the Leica, this is not an experience you’re going to come back home and rave to your friends about. Well, maybe a little.
This matchup has to clearly come down for the Leica. The key to the simplicity of its controls is that, well, there are simply fewer controls, which harkens back to the old question about radios: “Why does there need to be anything other than an On-Off/Volume and a Tuning dial?” Stripped down to the essential controls, laid out for classic, hand-held ease of use, and made with the finest, most robust materials, the Leica offers a completely unique and wonderful shooting experience.