posted on Aug 25, 2009 at 2:27PM
Head-2-Head Review: Leica M8.2 vs. Canon EOS 5D Mk II
Image Quality ComparisonBy Ted Dillard
Image Quality Comparison
The Leica has had nowhere near the needed power to bring to bear on developing the digital side of their systems. They have approached the problem in a couple of interesting ways. At the time of the release of the M8.2, Leica teamed up with PhaseOne to develop a software solution—and they could not have picked a better partner. PhaseOne has one of the best packages for that purpose. It is grown from the software for their own digital back support and has evolved into CaptureOne Pro, as near a universal package as photographers can get, handling almost every major DSLR.
Leica also adopted the DNG RAW format. It is not clear whether this was a move aimed at saving development money and resources, or if it was intended as a contribution to the effort to get the format accepted in the industry as a non-proprietary RAW file. Perhaps a little of both, it was a good move by any measure, and gets them into the market without a huge commitment of resources.
The camera design is clearly aimed at a few key functions, and it does them well. There are several other things it does, but does not do well, and several it does not do at all. While shooting within a “normal” ISO low to medium sensitivity yields acceptable results, pass 400 and the color accuracy, resolution and noise levels become unacceptable very quickly. However, during a long exposure, say in the neighborhood of 10 seconds to 60 seconds, the camera automatically takes a “dark sample”—a reference shot for processing noise out of the final image. The Canon has a similar feature, but with Leica’s, the camera comes back into its own during long exposures.
Probably the most significant difference, certainly the source of the most discussion and conflicting speculation is the file quality shortcomings of the M8.2. They are indeed, the biggest drawbacks of the camera. This is the one area in which a lack of R&D resources on the Leica side really shows, versus the results of many years of engineering experience and research on the Canon side. Canon has been processing CMOS sensors for a long time now—long before any other company even considered the CMOS configuration in a Pro-level camera, in spite of their cost savings and fast readout benefits. Canon’s lessons learned have placed them at the top of the pile today. Leica is playing catch-up, and the files certainly don’t measure up to those of other cameras in its price class.
Here are some of the test results. The first, the color accuracy charts, cannot demonstrate more clearly how the Leica misses the mark. The Canon is very good, certainly within expectations for the industry at any price, and a superlative file at the price point of the camera. The Leica, even at the lowest ISO, simply is not a great file, in fact, arguably unacceptable. At higher ISO, and we are showing it here at ISO 1600, it falls apart completely. For those who prefer graphs and numbers, see below. The numbers confirm what we are seeing: just flat-out disappointing performance.
It is pretty obvious from these results that these two cameras are in completely different classes as far as the issue of file quality. The Canon 5DM2 produces one of the most remarkable files out there, at any price, and truly comes into its own at high, and we mean over ISO 1600 high, sensitivity shooting. The 5DM2 shames cameras in its own class, and holds its own in classes of twice the price and more. The Leica falls short among its own price class, and even among cameras for significantly less money.
This one goes hands-down to Canon.