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With the Upgrade in Lens Performances, What About Canon 6D vs Leica M Typ 240 / M240 ?

This topic is of general interest to anyone considering Leica M or relative image quality, especially when price and value are considered.

Anyone considering a relatively costly photography system might consider engaging me in consulting for an hour— I have a wide-ranging perspective that could be of considerable value. A “round trip” into a new system that proves less than ideal is a very costly exercise.

See also Five Appealing Cameras.

Andrew R writes:

I am writing because of a turning point that I am facing with regards to the equipment that I am using and I would like your input.

Currently I am using a Leica M9, with a 21mm SEM, 35mm Summarit and 50mm Summilux, with great success due to your recommendations on MSI and Leica. I am primarily a landscape shooter and I went down the route of the Leica mainly due to the lighter weight and size of the kit, with the obvious quality gain over other small systems.

However, it was my new years resolution this year to get out and shoot more, and I have been.

What is bugging me is this...

Canon has recently released the wonderful 24-70 f/2.8L II, which offers image quality comparable to many primes in its range, plus the 6D, which from my research seems to not suffer from shadow banding anything like that of the 5DmkIII, while offering some level of weather sealing and a GPS to boot! An example of the possible quality of this combination would be your test shot of the Alpine Redwoods Bridge with the 5DmkIII and 24-70II at f/11, a level that I would expect from a current full frame system with a good lens.

Now Leica is about to release the new M240, which is another 80-100g heavier than the M9, plus add in a grip with GPS + viewfinder and you are landing somewhere in the weight range of the 6D. Not only that, but when I add up the weight of the 21SEM + 35mm Summarit + 50mm Summilux, I am in the weight range of the 24-70II, with no AF or weather sealing. Hiking is hiking, be it with 3 small lenses or one large lens.

Now I mainly shoot landscapes and when on a mountain top or on the beach when the wind is reasonable to high, changing lenses can be a real pain, not to mention if it is lightly drizzling with rain, plus add in the light at sunrise and sunset changes so fast that once you see a shot come to life it can be gone by the time you change lenses and filters etc.

I am at the point where I think that for what its worth, the Leica M system really is not any better for a travelling landscape photographer than a comparable FF DSLR with live View. The new M only shoots in bulb mode to 60 seconds max, which can be a problem when using ND filters for seascapes. Sure, the M lenses have wide apertures and can make for a lighter system when only one lens is attached, but really I might just add a Sony RX1 or Fuji X100 to take when I am travelling on holidays and leave the rest of the kit at home.

I would like your opinion on this, do you think that the output quality of the latest Canon SLRs can offer when I am used to with the M system, or should I stick with the new M?

I feel that the D800 is not an option for me due to a couple of reasons, mainly I don't like the ergonomics, plus the fact that I really need to get a 17mm TSE for my business work (architecture and interiors of houses that I fit-out), plus the need for a high quality general purpose tele eg 70-200 f/4 L IS or 70-300L IS.

DIGLLOYD: Some interesting points are raised here:

  • Can a 24MP DSLR with a high-performing mid-range zoom deliver images to a similar level as the Leica M Typ 240 with top-grade Leica glass?
  • When one counts the prime-lens weight and camera with accessories, is the Leica M Typ 240 really much smaller and lighter than a Canon 6D + 24-70 zoom?
  • How does one deal with real-world conditions for intrusive dirt, etc?
  • What about convenience?
  • Output quality?

My immediate advice for Andrew R is to buy the Canon 6D along with the Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM, and try it out— think of it as a rental— sell it if not satisfied. If it appeals, proceed with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II and the TS-E 17mm f/4L. Having both systems for a time together lets the mind freely accept one or the other on merit.

In general

In my view Leica has fallen short by ~20 megapixels with the new M240. In terms of the next year or two, I am confident that ultra high performance DSLR lenses will match or beat most all Leica M lenses at similar or lower cost, many of which have their own design compromises for compactness reasons. So Leica loses on resolution and is matched on lenses, not forgetting that 36 megapixels is hardly the limit of sensor resolution or quality from Nikon and Canon, with Leica’s sensor future entirely unproven.

Leica M lenses are a fraction of the size of a DSLR lens, so this is one area that Leica truly does have an advantage; the Leica 50/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH is tiny compared to the huge Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Distagon. Here the Leica M system trounces the DSLR on a size/weight basis if one wishes absolute top quality from either system.

Technical excellence is required to extract 24 megapixels of details, let alone 36 megapixels. So this must be assumed that “operator excellence” is at work also.

The Canon 6D

I’ll focus on the Canon 6D here, since that is the reader’s question (I’d personally want the Nikon D800E for its image quality and resolution, but one must consider all system factors).

I have not personally verified the Canon 6D sensor noise performance, but this seems to be the supposition at present, an interesting development given the pattern noise of the Canon 5D Mark III and pattern noise of the Canon 1D X.

Image quality is the combination of lens performance + sensor quality + operator skill:

  • The lens performance of the Canon 24-70/2.8L II I will deem as superior in some ways to various Leica M glass, including the Leica 28mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH, which has no less field curvature and it is my impression that the Canon zoom outperforms the Leica 28/2 on contrast at f/2.8. But I don’t think the Canon zoom has the same 'presence'. We very much get into visual style and various different lenses, but suffice it to say that the Canon 24-70/2.8L II is the most impressive mid-range zoom with the best color correction I have yet seen (hello Nikon?!).
  • On the lens front, if one has the bucks, I don’t expect anything to beat the new Leica 50mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH, though the (very large) Zeiss 55/1.4 Distagon might be very close.
  • It seems dubious that a first attempt sensor from Leica will match Canon’s years of sensor development, especially since the Leica M Typ 240 sensor looks to have noise issues even at its base ISO.
  • Lens performance presumes accurate focus. In this regard, autofocus is essential for some usages (Canon 6D) and Live View is also available. So net-net, the 6D offers more versatility, and the Leica M Typ 240 Live View is as yet unproven in quality and implementation.
  • The M240 sensor has no anti-aliasing filter. We can expect this to give it a significant advantage in sharpness, all other things being equal.

How does this net out? Who can say except by inserting personal subjective values. Which can include appealing simplifications fitting one’s preferences such as “one weather-sealed zoom” or “high quality prime lens is all I need”.

Size/weight

With the EVF wart and the GPS options (not inexpensive to be sure), the M240 is not a small camera. As yet I have not seen or handled the M240 or any of its accessories, so it’s hard for me to judge the appeal or functionality, but it’s fair to say that if the M240 is already heavier than the M9 that the addition of the EVF and grip will indeed make it into a bulkier and heavier camera not much different from many DSLRs.

So this size/weight thing comes down mainly to the mounted lens: one could mount the Canon 40/2.8 STM onto the 6D for a very compact DSLR. But once the 24-70 is mounted, the size grows considerably. So is it “versatile weather-sealed zoom“ or “small prime” being compared? This becomes a very subjective personal decision.

Then there is the small matter of cost

The cost of a top-grade M system approaches $20K or more ($7100 for M240 + $7200 for the 50/2 APO ASPH as a must-have lens, plus a wide angle and a telephoto lens, plus EVF, plus grip).

The cost of a Canon 6D + 24-70/2.8L II zoom is about $4300. So this is a really easy decision unless one has the financial means to not care about the price.

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