In my opinion the M5 is one of the best Leica M ever build, despite its somewhat larger size.
++ rangefinder patch does NEVER flare!!
+ match needle metering allows to see deviations from the ideal value more accurately
+ shutter speeds are displayed in the finder
+ metering is more selective than that of the M6/7
+ metering area is indicated for 50mm and with other lenses it corresponds to smaller frame (28mm lens -> 90mm frame) or (approx.) to the RF/patch (90mm,135mm)
+ exposure can be measured for speeds below 1s
+ build in selftimer
- CdS cell may have lost some of its sensitivity over the years
- metering arm restricts the use of lenses that penetrate deeply into the body. (collapsible lenses,Hologon, Super-Angulon, old Elmarit 28mm).
Way back when, when i was in college, i wanted the M5 more than anything else but couldnt afford the $900 retail price for the body, let alone the lens. So, i waited and years later i saw an ad in Shutterbug for a new M5 for $2,000.. but this time i bought it. Subsequently i got the lenses and primarly use the 90mm Tele-Elmarit today for abstracts and archetectrial shots. I do my own processing and printing using Tech Pan film exclusively. I thought back then and still do that the looks of the M5 are brutally cool. I dont know why it was discontinued in light of complaints about size when it really isnt much bigger than an SLR. Oh well. I love it and use it and it has performed perfectly after all these years.
By 2002 standards the M5 is small compared to a motor driven auto focus zoom lens equipped SLR. In 1975 people compared it to the tiny Olympus OM series and the Pentax ME and MX which were about the same size as the Leica M4. By the time the added the third lug they'd alienated all those folks whoi want a horizontal hanging camera. At the same time the CL came along with pretty much the same features, tiny, light, cute, and relatively inexpensive. Goodbye M5!
My own experiences and from discussions with other users at the time when the M5 was new boiled down to this:
1. Most eyeglass wearers found the meter/viewfinder image difficult to use. I could not see the metering info and frame the subject at the same time.
2. Price shock. The continueing devaluation of the dollar starting in 1970 quickly doubled the price of Leitz products. Then the wage/price freeze hurt even more.
3. The slightly larger "square" body did not "feel" the same in the hands of those who already had M cameras. This as well as the lug placement you mentioned turned away many of the Leica owners who were, shall we say, "conservative".
I first used the M5 in the mid-seventies and loved it. I simply could not afford the camera at the time. After quite a while using M4s and Nikons, I decided to go shopping. I finally got my M5 about three years ago and will never part with it. I still use my other Ms, especially for B&W, but the M5 is my favorite.
It certainly doesn't seem overlarge to me, though my hands are fairly large - in fact, I think one of the things I like best is how well it fits my hands. The meter is quite sensitive and I too like the graphic depiction provided by the match needle set-up. I wear glasses and have no troubling framing and reading the exposure info.
In sum - the M5 seems to me a misunderstood masterpiece.
I used the M5 from its inception and found it a remarkable camera. The meter was highly accurate even in moonlit settings (I checked the readings against a Lunasix). Seems to me that there is considerable prejudice against this instrument because of its size. I prefer a 'solid' camera, and currently use an SL. Leitz compromised with later 'M' models, simply because Japanese electronics are better than the Germans could ever conceive.
Mike - you might be right about the Japanese electronics.
On the "ergonomic" issue - I also just reacquired an SL, and have rediscovered how awesome that camera really is. I had and used for years a Standard, an SL, an SL2, and an R3 - but sold them in a fit of stupidity.
The SL is tops - great finder, super solid feel, best lenses in the world (more pleasing rendition than even M lenses IMHO).
Don't get me wrong - I'm not an equipment Luddite. I also use a NIKON F4 and appreciate its qualities, too.
But the SL is simply great - in very much the same category as the M5 and the other classic Leicas.