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Canon 5D Mark IV + 24-70mm f/2.8 vs Leica SL + 24-90mm f/2.8-4 - Battle of the Prosumer Mid-Zoom Kit

Canon 5D Mark IV + 24-70mm f/2.8 vs Leica SL + 24-90mm f/2.8-4 - Battle of the Prosumer Mid-Zoom Kit

This might not necessarily be your photographic dilemma? For me, it is often a question of whether to bring a Leica rangefinder or a Canon DSLR? The problem is this - I prefer shooting with my Leica glass, but sometimes I need autofocus or I need that extra reach. Leica rangefinders are great if you're up close shooting close, or far away shooting far. But the minute you need to shoot close up from far away, you would be better off with a Canon (or any DSLR for that matter).

Admittedly, you could always stick with the Canon, since it can also shoot from up close and far away. But then you cannot shoot with Leica glass, which in itself is an advantage.

Of course, there's always the Leica SL...

With a Leica SL, one can shoot with all the advantage of a DSLR while still retain the advantage of shooting with Leica glass. It seemed like the perfect solution. But then I wonder if it really was. To put the SL to the test, I thought it might be interesting to compare the performance of the Leica SL with the newly released Canon 5D Mark IV? But what kind of comparison?

It was then - in a moment of inspiration - that I decided to pit the Leica SL with the 24-90mm f/2.8-4 Vario against the Canon 5D Mark IV with the 24-70mm f/2.8 USM II. It would be a battle of prosumer cameras fitted with fast mid-range zoom lenses. It makes perfect sense, given that a medium zoom on a top-of-the-line prosumer camera is probably the most common set up.

I had breakfast reservations at a local Hong Kong vegan restaurant, only to discover they had an eleventh hour television shoot slotted in the same time. So much for our run, afterwards. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 1, Leica 0.

Anna's friend Olga suggested that we go over to PMQ, where there was another vegan-esque restaurant. It was just off Hollywood Road. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 2, Leica 0.

Following Olga to the other vegan-esque restaurant. Unfortunately, it appears to be closed. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 3, Leica 0.

So we decided to sit for a while. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 3, Leica 1

While we decided what to do next. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 3, Leica 2

The methodology of the comparison will be simple and straightforward. Follow Anna and Olga around, in a kind of street shooting test. And whichever camera ends up with the most images in support of this visual narrative will be crowned the better prosumer mid-zoom kit. Simple and fair - right? Okay... it's not exactly scientific, and may seem arbitrary. But believe me, it will be fair. Images will be selected on an as-need basis.

Before I begin, I also should add that I inadvertently hamstrung the Leica SL in this comparison. It’s one of those “I really should have read the instruction manual” mistake in life. With the Mark IV, I had been shooting on automatic autofocus selection, whereas on the SL I didn’t. In other words, I had to fiddle around with the SL joystick to select the autofocus point, while the Canon just did it automatically. Well, don’t I feel stupid.

Still, it wasn’t a big mistake. Overall, the experience wasn’t impacted significantly. I think what I found more difficult was juggling two camera bodies with a not-so-small mid-range zoom. It’s not to say that it was confusing, but you do lose that "grove" you get into with one camera body every time you switch to the other body.

On the move. Exploring PMQ. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 4, Leica 2

Going up the stairs. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 5, Leica 2.

Onwards, through the first door. Shot on the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 6, Leica 2.

Right from the start, I immediately favored shooting with the Canon 5D Mark IV - which was strange, given that I've only just gotten it, and that I've been using the Leica SL exclusively for over a month. Perhaps it was the honeymoon period, since I was familiarizing myself with a newly released camera. But to be honest, I think it was because the Mark IV felt so familiar, that instinctively, I just took to it, early in the comparison, especially for street shooting.

There's quite a bit that I do like about the Mark IV. The hand grip does feel better to me. It feels more ergonomically mated to my hand than the aesthetically cleaner line of the hand grip on the SL. It just feels more comfortable to me. But then again, the SL wouldn't look right with a moulded grip like the Canon. Some things are just not done.

In addition, I preferred the optical viewfinder of the Canon more than the Leica’s electronic viewfinder. Though to be clear, it means that I still prefer TTL viewfinders in general, regardless of camera body or system. Mind you, this is not to say that the optical view finder is superior. It is just I'm not as accustomed to the look of the EVF.

Outside, by one of many terrace overlooking the enclosed courtyard. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 7, Leica 2.

Now leaning on the railing. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 7, Leica 3.

Looking down into the courtyard. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 8, Leica 3

The battery life of the SL is significantly worse than the Mark IV. Although again, this is probably the case with all EVF cameras compared to TTL cameras.

But it's not all doom and gloom with the SL.

I like the SL’s arrangement of rear buttons for customizing controls. In saying that, I do understand that Canon has three custom setting recall button. However, I’ve never been able to find the three common shooting situation for me to set recall. I prefer to set on the fly.

I prefer the longer reach of the 24-90mm compared to the faster 24-70mm. However, I was shooting outdoor and with sufficient light for most of the morning, so it’s not certain that I would feel that way when I want to shoot above 24mm in low light. I’d probably be kill for that extra stop, let alone sacrifice that extra 20mm in reach.

Anna at the piano. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 8, Leica 4.

Still playing the piano, from the other side. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 8, Leica 5.

Meanwhile, Olga found a place to rest her feet. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 8, Leica 6.

Now lounging around. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 8, Leica 7.

In terms of shooting style, I find the Canon's autofocus better suited for shooting quick candid images. Admittedly, the Leica SL was shooting at a disadvantage, given my goof up. However, in subsequent testing, over the last two weeks, I have come to the conclusion that the Mark IV has a significantly better autofocus system than the SL.

Still, I prefer the SL’s arrangement of auto focusing points more than the Mark IV. With the Leica, I can better autofocus on the subject’s lead eye, nearer to the edge of the frame.

Please note that I didn't do any manual focusing for this comparison. Manual focusing wasn't the point of this comparison. But if it were, the Leica SL would be better, given the advantage of focus peaking in the EVF. Besides, why would anyone want to manual focus a Canon DSLR?

Leaving PMQ. Olga striking a pose down the steps. Shot on the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 9, Leica 7.

Olga stretching. Shot on the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 10, Leica 7.

Olga jumping. Surprisingly caught on a Leica SL. Score: Canon 10, Leica 8.

Now taking a breather. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 11, Leica 8.

In the shade. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 11, Leica 9.

Title image of this writeup. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 11, Leica 10.

As for image quality and rendering, I prefer the Leica. I just like the way the Leica renders color with more saturation, without over saturating skin tones - especially when the light is right. With the Canon, I am of the opinion that skin tone appears to render more greenish-yellow than reddish on the Leica.

And because of the arrangement of the autofocusing point on the SL, I can frame my images better, without needing to recompose or crop the image in post. Furthermore, I find the EVF leveler of the Leica SL better than the leveler on the Canon 5D Mark IV. Despite the problems the SL has with battery drain - the truth is - all those electronic aids on the SL, that drains the battery, are handy to have.

Overall, I prefer the Leica SL. For my needs, the SL makes more sense to me. I love how I can adapt Leica M-mount lenses onto it, and I love how I can now pair it with purpose-made Leica  autofocus zoom lenses.

Going down the steps, back to the vegan restaurant. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 12, Leica 10. 

Back on Hollywood road. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 13, Leica 10.

At 90mm. Waiting outside to be seated. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 13, Leica 11.

Ordering lunch, since breakfast was over an hour and a half ago. Image from the Canon 5D Mark IV. Score: Canon 14, Leica 11.

A final close up of Anna - also shot at 90mm. Image from the Leica SL. Score: Canon 14, Leica 12.

Despite my obvious preference for the Leica SL, this writeup isn't about that. It is a comparison to see which set up gets the most images posted in support of my visual narrative. Based on the rules, the Canon 5D Mark IV won this comparison - fair and square - with a final tally of 14 to 12. So the Canon 5D Mark IV with the 24-70mm USM II is the best prosumer mid-zoom kit!

Still, I am encouraged by how close the Leica SL came. If nothing else, this comparison demonstrates how capable a DSLR substitute the SL is. As such, I'm no longer torn on deciding between a Leica rangefinder or a Canon DSLR. With the Leica SL, I can have the best of both worlds - just as long as I bring enough batteries with me.

All images were obviously optimized in Lightroom. I had to wait forever for Adobe to release the camera raw updates! I should have posted this writeup over two weeks ago, right after I got the Canon 5D Mark IV.

By the way, in case you're wondering why I didn’t include a Nikon body in this comparison. Clearly I don’t have three hands. But to be honest, Nikon hasn’t released a comparable body for quite some time. But rest assure, I will figure out a way to grow a third arm, once Nikon releases the D800/810 upgrade.

Special thanks to Anna and Olga. Despite the mix up from the restaurant, it was fun, wasn't it!

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