In its current (January 2009) issue, Car & Driver magazine runs one of its standard "Comparison Tests." This one, called "Dirty Speed, Done Dirt Cheap" (p. 34), pits seven hotted-up econocars against each other and ranks them in order. In the test, the Volkswagen GTI comes in second. First place goes to the Mazdaspeed 3 Grand Touring.
Later in the same issue, the magazine presents its annual "10Best" list, naming what it thinks are the ten best cars in the world. And the GTI makes the list—the only one of the seven cars in the earlier comparo to do so. "So, you ask," explains the author of the comparo, "why did a 10Best winner come in second best? The 10Best award is about the overall feel of a car, and our jury found the smooth GTI to be more pleasing than the hairier Mazda."
In other words: different criteria.
In my recent survey of four 35mm-frame (~24x36mm sensor) cameras, the Canon 5D Mark II came in…third, and, in T.O.P.'s upcoming "Recommended Cameras" list for Winter 2008-2009, the 5D Mark II won't be found. So, huh?
The Canon 5D Mark II was the most eagerly-awaited new camera of 2008. For Canon shooters, who are legion, it will become for many the tool of choice (or the tool to aspire to) for certain kinds of work—very generally speaking, the kinds of work this site cares most about.
It's also a fine device, offering a very usable balance of form, features, and image quality for a competitive price. You won't hold a more comfortable camera, even if we think Canon should rethink a few of its ergonomics choices. And for image quality it strikes a balance that many shooters will approve of. Plus, it offers a new feature: top-quality video capability, which will make it appealing to wedding shooters and photojournalists who need to do both stills and video and can't (or choose not to) run a dedicated video camera.
Moreover, it earns a certain amount of credit by dint of its "Mark II" status. There isn't a one-to-one correspondence between the camera market and the community of serious photographers. Some cameras get more than their share of the market and do less than their share of great work. Some (the classic examples are the Leica M4 and M6) are used to create far more great work than their sales numbers alone would predict. Briefly put, those are cameras we care about. And the original 5D proved itself as one of those. Such a camera would never outsell a basic entry-level DSLR or any of the top point-and-shoots. But it was and is used by a disproportionate number of real shooters—professionals, artists, and dedicated amateurs—who are using it to create a large body of great work. That earns its successor some credit that the newcomers in its category don't have: the Mark II has lineage.
And early 5D Mark II adopters are already taking up right where 5D photographers left off. The camera has some flaws (what camera doesn't?), and it remains to be seen whether it will dominate what's coming to be called "mindshare" among dedicated shooters in a way that's truly reminiscent of the original, now that it has competition.
But it bids fair.
And for that reason—wrap it all up under the rubric of "significance"—the Canon 5D Mark II is the Camera of the Year, 2008.