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Leitz Ur-Leica versus Canon 20D

Roughly a century of technological development separate the Ur-Leica and the Canon 20D. The former was finished in March 1914, while the latter was presented to the public in August 2004. The Ur-Leica was the first camera to use 24x36mm film, whereas the 20D is build around a 8.2MP APS-C digital imaging sensor.

Oskar Barnack, a master technician at Ernst Leitz Optische Werke in Wetzlar/Germany, had the groundbreaking idea of doubling the width of then common 18x24mm cinema film and have it run horizontally in the Ur-Leica, rather than vertically as in cinema cameras of the time. He initially used the prototype camera to test the exposure for film projectors, but soon realized that the new design had potential as a self-standing stills camera. He completed his Ur-Leica in March 1914 as a small camera around a small negative that after enlargement, however, generated prints that showed less grain than the images from photographic plates. Also, the camera utilized the relatively inexpensive motion picture film, such that twelve pictures now could be taken for the costs of a single 5 x 7 plate. Better quality at lower costs from a more compact imaging tool was a sure recipe for commercial success. The latter came after the end of World War I, when Leitz started to sell the Leica I, which was based on the Ur-Leica.

Body comparison: Ur-Leica vs Canon 20D

An illustration of the physical dimensions and weight of the Leitz Ur-Leica and the Canon 20D is provided in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

Compare Leitz Ur-Leica vs Canon 20D
Compare Ur-Leica versus 20D top
Compare Ur-Leica and 20D rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Canon 20D is considerably larger (77 percent) than the Leitz Ur-Leica. Moreover, the 20D is substantially heavier (79 percent) than the Ur-Leica. In addition, while the Ur-Leica has an integrated lens (the retractable Mikro-Summar 42mm f/4.5), the 20D requires an additional lens, which will add further to its weight.

Ur-Leica
Ur-Leica with viewfinder attached[bitflare.de]

Evidently, the 20D is the more powerful imaging tool, providing an image quality and picture-processing capability that Oskar Barnack, the creator of the Ur-Leica, probably could not have envisioned. However, there are two aspects (apart from size and weight) where the Ur-Leica has an edge over the 20D. The first one is power supply. The Ur-Leica is a fully mechanical camera, so that there is no risk of running out of juice during a shooting session...

The second advantage of the Ur-Leica is, well, its resale value. The camera is a museum piece, resting safely at Leica’s headquarters in Wetzlar/Germany. Collectors would probably be willing to pay several million US dollars if it were put up for sale. In contrast, the Canon 20D, while surely being the better, more modern camera, just lacks the scarcity and historical importance that foster "auction madness" and drive vintage camera prices into six or seven-figure territory.

Other comparisons

Any interest in exploring another side-by-side comparison? Just enter your cameras of choice in the search box below and you will be taken to a corresponding display. Alternatively, you can also follow any of the links further down for comparisons that others pursued.

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