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Leica M8 Review

by Josh Root, July 2008 (updated March 2011)


Author's Note:

This is my second review of a digital rangefinder camera. Before reading this Leica M8 review, you might take a look at the Epson R-D1 review here on photo.net. I often compare these two cameras, because they are the only two options in existence for someone who wants a digital rangefinder.

Before the Single-Lens-Reflex (SLR) camera, there was the rangefinder camera. From the 1930's into the 1970's, virtually every great 35mm image you can think of was taken with a rangefinder. Hallowed names from the "golden age" of photojournalism all used rangefinders for much (if not all) of their photography, including Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Larry Burrows, and Alfred Eisenstadt. Now, to be fair, the SLR didn't exist yet, so they didn't really have much of a choice. It was either a rangefinder, a big Twin-Lens-Reflex medium format, or 4x5 large format press camera. Unsurprisingly, most photojournalists chose the rangefinder. But even in the auto-focus SLR era, names such as William Albert Allard, David Alan Harvey, and Sebastiao Salgado come to mind as dedicated RF users. So why all the fuss about rangefinders? This is a long and complicated conversation to get into with any photographer who has strong feelings about rangefinders, pro or con. Suffice it to say, one group feels like they are overpriced under-featured relics from photography's past, while the other group feels that they are the last vestige of simple honest photographic tools in an age where auto-everything has become the norm.

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Benefits of Using a Rangefinder

Rather than getting into that whole mess, I will summarize what many consider to be the benefits of using a rangefinder:

  • Camera bodies are more compact than SLR's.
  • Lenses are generally more compact and tend to have larger maximum apertures available for a given focal length.
  • Wide angle lenses are designed without the complicated retrofocus designs required for SLR's (due to the swinging mirror). This frequently creates wide angle lenses that are sharper and show much less distortion than all but the best SLR lenses.
  • No mirror "blackout" at the moment of exposure as with an SLR.
  • Many users feel that rangefinders are easier to focus in very low light than SLR's, particularly auto-focus SLR's, which can have a hard time locking focus in these conditions.
  • No mirror-slap and traditional cloth shutters make for a much quieter shutter sound.
  • Smaller size, smaller lenses, and a quieter shutter all combine for a camera that many feel is less imposing or threatening to photographic subjects, making them feel more at ease with the photographic process and be more likely to relax.

You may agree with those reasons and hold them up as gospel, or you may laugh at them as pure drivel spouted by those trying to justify their $15,000 investments in outdated technology. In either case, the fact remains that in 2008 rangefinders are at a low point in their history. As I said, 1930-1970 was the golden age for RF cameras. Mostly because the SLR had not yet been invented. The 1970's and 1980's were hard for the rangefinder and virtually all manufacturers aside from Leica stopped making RF cameras. Fortunes turned around somewhat in the 1990's with the entrance of Cosina/Voigtlander and their Bessa line of bodies and many excellent lenses. But the digital era changed all that, and like all film based cameras, rangefinders started to feel the pinch of users who discarded 35mm rolls for memory cards.

There have been only two digital rangefinder cameras released to date: the Epson R-D1 and now the Leica M8. Leica has been the gold standard of rangefinder cameras for the past 40 years, so many photographers had been clamoring for a digital M since the dawn of the digital age. But Leica moves slowly. Some would say that is because they are a small company, (at least compared to giants like Nikon and Canon) and cannot afford to jump quickly into expensive research and development projects. Others would say that Leica let the digital race pass them by while they twiddled their thumbs and released extravagant collectors editions of their film cameras. As is so often the case in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle. It costs a lot of money to get into the digital photography ring and it is hard to be successful. Look at how much money Sony has spent creating and promoting their DSLR and how much market share they have to show for it. But the fact is that Leica has wasted time releasing cameras like the $8000 Hermes Special Edition Leica MP. With the release of the M8, however, that is all in the past for most Leica users. So just how good is the long awaited digital M series camera? Read on.

What Leica's Marketing Department says about the M8

The Leica M system is now open for professional digital photography. Breaking completely new ground, the Leica M8 doesn't only look like an M—it utilizes all the benefits of the analog Leica M system for sophisticated and creative digital photography. It is the only digital camera for professionals to incorporate the rangefinder system with its advantages of discreet and quiet operation, speed and precision. And the no-compromise quality criteria of the M system continue to apply to the M8. Full compatibility with nearly all M lenses means that their unique imaging performance is available for digital photography, too. The CCD image sensor has been specifically matched to the compact lens design to guarantee superlative photographic quality. The controls and functions of the digital M still concentrate on the essentials. The proven M concept is complemented by the intelligent extra functions that digital technology has to offer. The LEICA M8 is the first timeless digital camera "Made in Germany". Fascinatingly new and yet still a real Leica M.

Rather than list out the full specifications here, anyone who needs that info should follow this link for Leica's technical info PDF document for the M8.

Appearance and Feel

SLR/DSLR photographers who have not used a Leica M series camera may be surprised at just how compact of a package a Leica M8 and a 35mm lens is. It is somewhat deceptive, because if you just go by the specifications, the M8 does not appear to be much smaller than a camera like the Canon 40D. But the design of a rangefinder offers distinct advantages as far as size is concerned. With no mirror to be concerned with in front of the shutter, the body can be much thinner and lenses can use a smaller non-retrofocus design. Also with no pentaprism or built-in flash atop the camera, and no handgrip on the side, the overall bulk is significantly reduced on a rangefinder camera, though it's overall dimensions are not significantly changed. The Leica M8 is virtually the same size as its film-based predecessor, the Leica M7. It is slightly fatter (3mm) front to back, a difference that those who are intimately familiar with the feel of Leica's film cameras may notice. But for all intents and purposes, Leica has designed their first digital camera within the mold created by the M series. The overall "look" of the camera also fits within that same mold. Of course, there are a few differences. The film advance lever is missing, as are the rewind knob, rewind lever, and meter battery cover. The frame counter has been moved over above the viewfinder window and is now an LCD, and there is a USB 2 port on that same side of the body. The bottom plate looks exactly the same, though now it covers the battery and SD card slots (we will revisit this later). The back of the camera is now filled with an LCD display, buttons, and a control pad/dial. But overall, the M8 looks like what users would expect a digital M camera look like. Leica did a good job of sticking with what works in terms of the camera's form.

The camera body is well constructed with a fit/finish that one would expect for the price. The chassis is a two piece cast magnesium construction and the top and bottom plates are milled out of solid brass. It is one of the most solid feeling digital cameras I have used and truly did bring me back to the days when I had an M6 with me at all times. While I call the M8's feel "solid" it should be noted that at 610gm (1.3 lbs) with battery, the M8 is not a particularly heavy camera. In comparison, a Canon XSi weighs 475 g (1 lb), a Canon 40d weighs 822 g (1.8 lb) and a Nikon D3 weighs 1,240 g (2.7 lb).

Handling and Use

In real-world use, the M8 was much like using the film rangefinder cameras I was so fond of before my switch to digital. So much so that I kept searching for the film advance lever with my thumb. Of course, unlike the Epson R-D1, the M8's have an electronic shutter (the first on any M camera), which relegates the advance lever to obsolescence.

Regarding the shutter itself, using an electronic shutter has caused a bit of controversy in the ranks of Leicaphiles. The fact is that an electronic shutter has a significantly different sound than that of the M series traditional cloth shutter. As the quiet shutter sound of the M series had been one of it's strong points with street photographers for over 50 years, this change has caused a stir. In all honesty, the shutter is not very loud at all, and in real world usage is virtually silent in all but the most tomblike of settings. Yes, if you hooked up some audio gear and measured the sound between an M8 and an M7, I am sure you would find the M8's shutter to be louder and slightly different in pitch. But unless you are in a silent church bowed in prayer, nobody else is going to know the difference. It's one of those things that makes for an interesting debate on paper, but that is about it. Besides, the electronic shutter brings plenty of advantages with it: higher flash sync speed, higher top speed, less space inside the body, and it makes a shutter advance lever unnecessary. The electronic shutter also eliminates the periodic need for the standard "Clean, Lube, & Adjust" service that all mechanical Leicas require. On the flipside, if your battery is dead, you can still use a mechanical camera. However, that's the case with any digital camera. So, if you are worried about dead batteries leaving you hanging, you should be using a film camera, and not a digital anyway.

The M8 may not have the exact same viewfinder as the excellent one in the M7, but it is plenty close. Viewfinders are another subject that rangefinder users like to debate to no end. For me personally, I think the M7 viewfinder is one of the best so far and the M8 is virtually the same to my eye. Contrast is good, flare is low, and the RF patch is bright. The M8's VF has three pairs of brightlines to indicate coverage for six different focal lengths. The pairs are 24+35 mm, 28+90 mm and 50+75 mm. One thing to remember is that the framelines on a Leica M camera are just rough guides for lens coverage. This is because the lines are fixed, but in reality a lens covers a slightly different field of view when at it's minimum focus distance than it does when focused to infinity. This issue is more pronounced with telephoto lenses than with wide-angle lenses. So Leica has always set the framelines to show the minimum coverage for a given focal length. This means that you aren't going to get less than what you see in the framelines, but sometimes you will get a decent bit more. This frustrates some photographers to no end, and if you are one of those photographers, rangefinder photography is not for you. People who require super-accurate framing need to get a SLR with a 100% finder. For the rest of us, we just learn to be a little loose with our composition when using a RF camera and understand that we may have to crop later to get the exact image we were looking for. In my experience, the M8 wasn't any different than other M cameras as far as frameline coverage is concerned. But there are some reports from M8 users that the framelines are 5-10% more inaccurate than the framelines on cameras such as the M6 or M7.

As is typical with the M series cameras, the M8 has a frame preview lever that allows you to switch the framelines without switching lenses. Often overlooked, this is a great feature of rangefinder cameras as it is very handy to preview what the "look" of a different focal length will be without having to go through the trouble of actually switching lenses. Keep in mind that the focal lengths indicated relate to the lens focal length and not to the actual field of view. Due to the Leica M8's 1.3x crop sensor, a 24mm lens is going to cover about the same field of view as a 32mm lens (if such a thing existed) and the brightlines reflect that. Or, to phrase it more simply, the 24mm brightline is going to show you the image that your 24mm lens will produce. My biggest question about the Leica M8's viewfinder is to ask why Leica didn't choose to allow buyers to custom order an M8 with a .58x or .85x viewfinder as they do with the film M cameras. Offering the different viewfinder magnifications, to cater to users wide or telephoto lens preferences, was a great decision by Leica. It's a shame that they didn't offer M8 buyers the same option.

The information in the VF is simple but effective. Just like the old SLR that you learned photography with, you get a pair of triangles indicating over/under exposure with a circle indicating correct exposure. There are four LED digits that show shutter speed, a countdown timer for long exposures, and a "buffer full" message. There is a flash ready symbol and a pair of small dots that are supposed to indicate exposure-lock and exposure compensation warning. Everything is nice and simple and works as you would expect, although I'm not particularly excited about the exposure-lock and exposure compensation warning dots. It seems like someone could have designed a more obvious indicator for those functions. But that is a pretty small complaint, as I didn't make use of them very often.

Touch the shutter button lightly and the M8's meter will activate, press it down halfway and the exposure lock will activate. The shutter release has a fine feel to it. To me, it didn't have quite the same satisfying feedback as a mechanical M body. But I'm guessing that has to do with the differences in shutters more than anything else. All together, the shutter button operated just as it should have and I never felt like I was hunting for the AE lock point as can happen with some cameras. One thing I did not like was the on/off ring around the shutter release. It has click settings for single shooting, continuous shooting (at a slow 2fps), self-timer, and off. I found it entirely too easy for the camera to be inadvertently turned on, running the battery down. Or for the camera to be switched to self-timer mode, leaving you standing there mashing the shutter button over and over wondering why you are missing the photo of a lifetime. The on/off ring should have much stronger dents that require an active effort to switch. I also ran into a couple of situations where the dial had been moved to on while in a bag and then somehow the camera had locked up to such a degree that I had to take the bottom plate off and pop out the battery to unlock it. This could have just been an isolated problem with the unit I had, but it is worth mentioning. Being sure to carry the camera in such a way so that nothing could bump the on/off dial helped all of these problems. But it is a problem that I do not experience with my other cameras.

There used to be a big difference in LCD screens between different cameras. These days that has mostly gone by the wayside. That having been said, it bears mentioning that the M8's LCD is particularly nice. Large, sharp, and bright even outdoors, it was a pleasure to use. The M8's buttons and menu navigation system are simple and easy to operate. I didn't find myself standing there staring at the screen trying to remember how to change this or that setting. It is a safe bet to say that even those with little experience using digital cameras will be up to speed on the M8 within just a few hours of shooting.

Storage

There was a time when using SD cards was viewed as an odd choice for a "professional" camera. This was mostly due to the fact that CF offered significantly higher maximum capacity cards at a significantly lower price. But that is all in the past now and a number of major manufacturers are using SD cards in their higher end cameras due to their smaller form factor. Prices and maximum capacities are more or less the same between CF and SD cards these days. However, in order to increase capacity, SD cards had to change the method that they accessed the card memory. Thus was born the SDHC card. SDCH has the same form factor as standard SD cards, but it has significantly increased storage capabilities, up to 32 GB. However, a camera must be compatible with SDHC in order to use them. For some reason known only to them, Leica did not enable the M8 to use these cards. So 4GB cards are the maximum that the camera can use. However, because there only appear to be two companies offering 4GB SD cards, and neither of them are what most photographers would consider "well known" manufactures, it may be more practical to say that 2GB is the maximum the M8 can use. I find this to be slightly annoying considering that other camera manufactures have updated their high end cameras to work with SDHC cards by issuing firmware updates. Leica has so far declined to do this and has issued this statement:

"The SDHC standard is an extended type of SD standard. This takes very extensive updating of the camera's SD driver to accommodate them. Leica is working on such updates and will supply them in future firmware versions."

However, as the Leica M8 was introduced in September 2006, Leica does not appear to be in any real hurry to get that new firmware completed. The bright side is that with a 2GB card, you still can store 175-180 RAW images from the M8. With 2GB cards priced at $10-25 as of this writing (June 2008), there is no great expense in stocking up on a pile of them.

The motordrive chugs along at a not-too-blazing 1.8-2 frames per second. But it is important to remember that the Leica M series was never meant to be a sports photographer's machine gun. 2fps is more than anyone can manually advance a film Leica (unless they have a Rapidwinder or Leicavit) and many people dislike the bulk and feel of the Leica M motor. Yes, the M8 does make a typical "zzzt" type of advance noise, and yes, you are going to get purists who claim that this is unacceptable. But for the majority of users, it's hard not to call the M8's motordrive a net advantage for the M series.

Happily, unlike the Epson R-D1, the Leica M8 has no problems with it's image buffer. For those who don't know, the buffer is where images are stored while they are waiting to be written to the memory card. This internal memory allows cameras like the Canon 1D to take 20-30 shots in a row at full motor drive speed. When your camera's buffer is full, you cannot take another image until there is space in the buffer (which is another way of saying, "until the camera has written an image to the memory card").

In both JPEG and RAW mode, one can make 10-12 images before the buffer fills up. Thereafter, you can take another photo every 2.5-3.5 seconds or so until the buffer clears. It takes between 20-30 seconds for a full buffer to clear. What's strange about these numbers is that the the performance seemed to be better for the RAW files than the JPEG's, the opposite of what is found on most cameras. This probably has something to do with the M8's JPEG processing algorithm, but that is pure speculation on my part. The bottom line is that, for the way most people use a rangefinder camera, the shot buffer and drive speed will easily meet their needs.

Power

The Leica M8's battery life seems to be a matter of some debate. Leica claims 550 shots, but online reports from users seem to be more in the 200-500 area. That is a fairly large range of difference. My guess is that the results differ based on how the camera is used. In my testing, I found the battery life to be somewhere towards the lower end of that range. Keep this in mind, I am an unabashed "chimping" photographer. I am constantly checking the LCD to see if I got the image that I was looking for. It is the way I work and I make no bones about it. However, if you are a traditional film photographer, and have no interest in looking at the LCD all the time, I can imagine that the M8's battery would last significantly longer for you than it did for me. In any case, even at the low end, the M8's battery performance is fine. Particularly for a camera that is not being used for high speed sports or event work.

The M8's battery charger is both useful and annoying. Useful because it comes standard with three different wall socket adapters (for use in the USA, the UK, and Europe) and also includes an auto 12v cigarette lighter adapter. All of which is a very nice touch and something not included in the box with any other camera that I am aware of. The charger is annoying because it is, quite simply, far too bulky. When you look at the size of a Canon 5D charger and and the Leica M8's charger, the Leica's charger is easily 2-3 times larger. While this is not a huge problem, it is strange that Leica would have included four different adapters for travel compatibility, but created a charger that is quite bulky to travel with.

A note on accessing the memory card and the battery

Leica M cameras have never enjoyed the ease of a swing-open film door. Since the first M3 in 1953 the M series has always used a bottom-loading method for loading film. Various reasons have been put forward as to why this is; more structural rigidity, better film flatness, not wanting to change a proven design, etc. But the fact is that the bottom-loading has come to be viewed as one of the Leica "quirks" that people either accept or hate. While there may be advantages to the bottom-loading system, one serious disadvantage is that you have to take the bottom plate completely off then hold it in your mouth or stash it in a pocket while you use both hands to load film. In a fast paced moment, it can be hard to do all of this at once and dropping the bottom plate is a real possibility. So I must ask why in the world Leica bothered to stick with the bottom-loading "style" for the M8? Having to remove the bottom plate to access the battery and memory card keeps all of the "wish I had a third hand" annoyances of the film cameras, with none of the possible advantages. While I stick with my previous statement of applauding Leica for making a digital M camera that stays close to the traditional M form-factor, I cannot call the battery/card access design a good choice.

Lenses, metering, and exposure

Please note: As both cameras have similarities in this area, parts of this section will be similar to my Epson R-D1 review.

Like many digital cameras with interchangeable lenses, the Leica M8 uses a sensor that is smaller than the size of a 35mm frame of film (24mm x 36mm). In the M8's case, this sensor is 30 percent smaller at 18mm x 27mm. Due to this smaller size a 1.3x field of view multiplier for lenses. What this means is that a 50mm lens on the M8 will give you the same view as a 68mm lens on a regular 35mm film camera (if such a lens existed). For classic rangefinder users, this causes the greatest problem with digital rangefinders: the lack of many fast wide angle lens choices. While this issue still rears its head with the M8, the situation is much improved over the Epson R-D1.

For example, let's look at the situation for a fast 35mm (equiv) lens. With the R-D1 your choices were very limited:

  • The slow but cheap, small, and sharp Voigtlander 25/4
  • The slightly faster, much larger, and very expensive Leica 24/2.8
  • The slightly faster, much larger, very hard to find and slightly expensive Kobalux 21/2.8
  • The slightly faster, much larger, and somewhat expensive Zeiss 21/2.8
  • The slightly faster, much larger, and very expensive Leica 21/2.8

However, none of these gets past f/2.8. Most RF users are accustomed to f/1.4 being their "fast" lens speed, so a drop of 2-3 stops is unacceptable. Luckily, with the Leica M8's 1.3x sensor, the list changes to:

  • The slow but cheap and small Voigtlander 25/4
  • The slightly faster, larger, and very expensive Leica 24/2.8
  • The slightly faster, compact, and somewhat expensive Leica Elmarit 28/2.8
  • The slightly faster, fairly compact, and inexpensive (used) 28/2.8 lenses for the Minolta CLE & Konica Hexar RF

But more importantly, you also have these two choices:

  • The fast, large and very expensive Leica Summicron 28/2
  • The fast and much less expensive Voigtlander Ultron 28/1.9

These two lens choices might not seem like much, but when used with the Leica M8, they allow rangefinder photographers the ability to use the classic 35mm focal length and still have the fast f/2 aperture that they have come to love. While I am pleased about the 35mm length, this doesn't even begin to get into the issues with finding a reasonably fast and affordable 21-28mm (equivalent) lens. I don't know about you, but for me "wide" doesn't even start until you reach 24mm. Given that the strength of rangefinder photography has always been its wide angle (50mm and wider) available light (f/2 and faster) abilities, there is still a ways to go in this department before I can say that digital RF photography has caught up with film RF photography in terms of lens choices. In any case, if you don't care about fast wide-angle lenses, then these aren't issues that will bother you. I would still like to see Cosina/Voigtlander come out with a 21/2 that covers the M8's 1.3x chip. There would then be one lens that offered a 35/2 for the R-D1 and a 28/2 for the M8.

The Leica M8 has five different ISO settings, 160/320/640/1250/2500. I have never been told why they chose to go with these oddball numbers instead of the more standard 100/200/400/800/etc. choices. Perhaps it was as an homage to different film stocks (160 is the speed of films like Kodak's Porta C-41, 320 is the speed many photographers expose Kodak's Tri-X 400, etc.). It is somewhat humorous that despite the effort to be original with the ISO speed choices, the M8 is slightly more sensitive than these choices would indicate. So, in reality the 160/320/640/1250/2500 choices perform the same as the more common 200/400/800/1600/3200 choices. In the low-mid ISO settings, the M8's sensor noise is well controlled compared to other cameras of its class. Images at ISO 1250 and 2500 are less pleasing to my eye than other high-end cameras. There is significantly more chroma noise (color blotchiness) in the higher ISO choices than you are likely to see from a Canon or Nikon DSLR sensor. Digital sensor noise being a fairly subjective thing (as was film grain before it), this may bother some people and won't bother others. What may bother users is the fact that the M8 offers nothing but full stop increments for ISO selection. Most high end digital cameras have long offered 1/3 stop ISO adjustment.

One of the theoretical hurdles of creating a digital rangefinder has been that RF lenses are designed much differently than SLR lenses. SLR lenses have to be built so that the back element is completely out of the way of the swinging mirror. This design causes the lens elements to direct the light towards the camera's film/sensor in a much more direct way. RF lenses don't have the mirror issue to deal with, which creates advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that RF lenses can be designed to be much smaller and lighter for a given focal length than similar SLR lenses. However, often these lenses have rear elements that protrude into the camera body. The closer the rear element is to the film/sensor plane, the greater the angle of the light hitting that plane, particularly in the corners of an image. With film, this isn't a big deal, but digital sensors are designed to record light striking them directly. When light comes in at an angle, to a digital sensor, you get "vingetting" or light fall off, particularly in the corners of an image.

To combat the vignetting issue, Leica has taken a few different paths. For one thing, the use of a less than full-frame sensor helps a lot with this issue. The corners of the M8's sensor are receiving light at a much less extreme angle than the corners of a full-frame sensor would be. Leica also designed the microlenses (lenses that direct light to the sensor) in such a way that the lenses become more offset towards the edges to match the angle of the light hitting the sensor. Finally, Leica has created a 6-bit coding system for its lenses that allow the M8 to recognize when a specific lens is mounted and apply an appropriate amount of vignetting correction. All new M lenses will have this coding in place and virtually all older lenses can be sent in to Leica to have the encoding added. Of course, this will cost you 95 Euros per lens, but it's nice to see a camera company not leave it's previous products in the dust. However, if you have 3rd party lenses or older non-supported lenses, you are out of luck. There is no way to manually select the lens in use in order to apply vignetting correction. Overall, vignetting is highly minimized with these three approaches.

Leica moves slowly when it comes to automation. The first Leica M with TTL metering was the M5 in 1971. The first Leica M with automated exposure ability was the M7 in 2002. By way of comparison, the Topcon Super-D had TTL metering in 1962 and the Pentax Electro Spotmatic had aperture priority exposure automation in 1971. Today, the Leica M8 has a simple center-weighted metering system similar to the M7's but with a few changes due to the new metal shutter. Just as most every center-weighted meter ever made, it works predictably and effectively. If you are used to the fancy 100 point metering systems in today's DSLR's, this basic metering may confuse you. But 30 minutes with a 1980's photography "how to" book will bring you up to speed. likewise, the simple aperture priority exposure mode is not nearly as fancy as what you will find on a Nikon D300. But it works perfectly once you understand what it can and cannot do. It bears repeating that the real advantage to these systems is that once you know how to use them, they will not surprise you. The same cannot be said for some other digital cameras these days.

The M8's white balance (WB) is adequate but not outstanding. You get six presets (Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight, Flash, Cloudy, & Shadow) along with manual, custom Kelvin temp (2000-13100 K) and Auto settings. The presets work well in most situations, but not particularly well in tungsten or fluorescent lighting. This problem gets worse when you use the Auto setting. While these light sources can be troublesome for any digital camera, the M8 seems to have a harder time than most. Just one more reason to shoot RAW files, making things like this easier to correct later on. As a note, it is important to make sure your camera has the most recent firmware installed as it adds some improvements to the white balance system. Cameras with prior versions of the firmware are likely to have more WB issues.

Software

Despite camera makers including software with their cameras, most serious photographers use a program like Photoshop to sort, to edit and even to convert their RAW files. There are plenty of photographers who never even take the manufacturer's software disc out of it's cellophane wrapper, myself included. The M8's software is slightly more useful than your typical camera's because the included Leica Digital Capture allows you to trigger the camera remotely, an advantage for studio work. I do not know how important this will be to Leica M photographers though as rangefinder bodies are not the first choice of most studio photographers. Still, remote capture is a useful ability to have. Plus, the included Capture One LE software allows you to speed up correction of the magenta cast issue (read on for more on that issue).

The "Magenta" Issue

As part of their design to minimize problems with angled light rays, Leica used a very thin infrared filter in front of the sensor. Sadly, this filter is just too thin and some infrared light makes it through to the sensor. The most obvious result of this is that black colored items will end up with a strong magenta cast to them. In addition, in some situations skin tones may tend towards red and foliage towards yellow, but these are minor in comparison to the magenta cast. This problem is at its worst with synthetic fabrics and artificial lighting, but can also be seen in full sunlight. Leica's solution, and really the only solution available, was to tell M8 users to put an IR-Cut filter onto the front of their lenses. To facilitate this, they offered two free filters to any M8 buyer. For many users, this won't be an issue simply because they already put protective filters over the front of their $3000 lenses as basic insurance. But other photographers are annoyed that a camera costing as much as the M8 would have an issue this serious make it all the way to production. Other users find it troublesome, but don't see it as a deal-breaker. They want to have a digital M camera and are willing to jump through a few hoops to have one.

This issue is, quite frankly, the worst aspect of the M8. There is no denying that it is frustrating, however, it isn't a deal-breaker for me. Photoshop is a powerful tool and you can correct much of the issue with some trial and error. Or, if you shoot in RAW and use the included CaptureOne LE, you can take advantage of the fact that someone has already done that trial and error for you. Jamie Roberts has created a set of profiles that do a very good job at taking away the magenta cast from M8 images. The image below is a pretty good example of what Jamie's profiles can do for an average "magenta" situation. No, it's not perfect. Yes, you have to shoot RAW to be able to use it. It's not a perfect solution, and Leica had to rely on one of its fans to put the energy into coming up with it (I hope Leica sent him a few lenses or a body as a "thank you"). But the fact of the matter is that using Jamie's profiles will bring the "magenta" issue to a pretty low level of annoyance for most users. You can get Jamie's CaptureOne profiles by clicking here to download a zip file.

In the vein of "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade," it bears mentioning that many people feel the IR light sensitivity has the unintended effect of making the Leica M8 a wonderful camera for black and white photography. While I am not sure it can be attributed to the IR sensitivity or not, my personal opinion is that the M8 is one of the best digital cameras I have ever used when it comes to making b/w images. Also, there are a number of M8 users who are taking advantage of the M8's IR sensitivity to create traditional IR images by using filters that block visible light and only let the IR light through. Typically, if you want to do this with a digital camera, you need to have it modified by removing its internal IR filter, rendering it virtually useless for standard photography.

Leica M8 Upgrade Program

In January 2008 Leica announced an "M8 Upgrade Program" for existing M8 owners. This upgrade would include the following:

  • The fitting of a scratch-resistant sapphire glass LCD screen cover
  • A new electronically controlled metal-blade slotted shutter with less kinetic force and a quieter sound than the original shutter
  • Inspection and adjustment of all aspects of the camera body
  • A one year extension of the original warranty coverage

Pricing is as follows:

  • 1450 USD (1120 EUR) for both the shutter and the sapphire glass cover
  • 1025 USD (750 EUR) for the sapphire glass cover only
  • 950 USD (800 EUR) for the shutter only

Sapphire glass is supposed to be quite hard and scratch resistant, so that is a plus for anyone worried about their M8's LCD screen. The new shutter is supposed to be quieter and not create as much vibration as the previous one, a plus for shooting in low-light or very quiet situations. However, in order to achieve this, the new shutter can only go up to 1/4000 of a second. That limitation may be a problem for photographers who shoot outdoors in sunlight but want to use a large aperture for shallow depth of field. However, if you are outside in bright sunlight, it is unlikely that you will be worried about the loudness of the shutter and you will likely be using such a fast shutter speed that the lower vibration level won't matter to you either.

Leica user's reaction to the upgrade has been mixed. However, Leica was really between a rock and a hard place in this situation. On the one hand, they have a large group of dedicated users who have grown accustomed to the fact that their cameras have been "investments" and have stayed valuable for decades. The typical rant of these users is "I'm not buying a Leica that is just going to become obsolete in a few years." But it is difficult to fix and improve camera features when you are stuck with an absolutely rigid form factor. Look how many times the basic Canon Rebel DSLR line has changed shape slightly over the years. Leica is really swimming upstream against the typical "new model every 18 months" mantra that has ruled the digital photography era. But it may pay off for them yet. If they can follow this plan successfully, they may have a real selling point to users who would otherwise be wary of paying $5000 for a camera body.

Things to like about the M8

  • Excellent construction
  • Good RAW image buffer size
  • Future upgrade possibilities may eliminate typical digital obsolescence
  • Faster top shutter speed and flash sync
  • Noise well controlled, images retain detail
  • Easy to navigate menus
  • An easy transition from film M cameras in terms of use
  • International battery charger
  • Well designed vignetting solution
  • The sheer enjoyment of using it

Things not to like

  • "Magenta" cast to images due to IR light
  • Typical Leica M bottom plate for battery/SD card
  • No SDHC support
  • Mediocre Auto white balance
  • 90 Euros to update older lenses to 6-bit coding
  • A very expensive camera
  • Oversized battery charger
  • One stop ISO adjustment choices

Conclusion

Should you buy the Leica M8? That all depends on who you are, what you are trying to shoot, and how much money you have in your pocket. For the person who has $10,000 in Leica lenses at home, doesn't see the price of an M8 as an obstacle, and just wants to have a digital camera to use them on, the M8 is the best of your two choices (the other being to buy a used Epson R-D1) and your only choice if you want a new factory-warranty camera. If you are a less wealthy photographer who is dedicated to digital, but longs to have a digital RF, I would probably suggest the used R-D1 route. If you are the kind of person who cannot imagine spending $5400 on a camera that was not perfect in every way, you should probably keep walking. I'm not sure where you will end up (Canon and Nikon have their own issues even at that price point), but it sure won't be here in M8-land.

Since the SLR revolution of the 1970's, the Leica M series has always been about something other than cramming the most gadgets and features in a camera. Buying a Leica M is a lot like buying a car such as a Lotus Elise. The Elise and a Lexus GS both start at around $45,000. With the Lexus, you get a fine performing car with all of the best creature comforts and reliability of a Japanese made luxury car. With the Lotus Elise you get nothing but a very fast very fun car to drive. The lotus has virtually no creature comforts, costs an arm and a leg to repair, and comes from a company with a dubious reliability record. Why get the Elise? Because you are buying more than the end result of getting down the road, you are buying an experience. No matter how many speakers or climate-control zones or cup-holders the Lexus has, it will never ever feel the same as rallying around a twisty country road in the Lotus.

The Leica M8 is in virtually the same situation. If you demand a digital rangefinder camera in 2008, the Leica M8 is worth every penny. Why? Because it is the only one out there. There is only one digital rangefinder that can be bought new today. You can complain that the M8 has flaws, but you can't take your money anywhere else and get the same thing. Trying to compare the M8 to a DSLR isn't a fair comparison. They are simply two different beasts and two different ways of experiencing photography. If you are sitting there saying to yourself, "I could buy a Nikon D3 and a nice lens for the price of that M8 body," then you probably aren't who Leica is aiming at with the M8. The person who buys an M8 isn't likely to see the D3 as a suitable alternative because the D3 is not a rangefinder. To a rangefinder nut, hearing someone say something like that is as strange as a sports car nut hearing someone say, "Uh, for the price of the Lotus, you could buy a Ford F350 4x4 diesel." Why would a sports car nut do something like that?

Now, that isn't to say that legitimate complaints cannot be made about the M8 and Leica's choices. The M8 does have some flaws, the most glaring of which is the magenta/IR light issue. It is hard to imagine a camera from Canon or Nikon making it all the way to production with a flaw like that. And then there is the fact that rangefinder photography is slowly dying as the digital era takes over. In many Leica users' minds, the only thing that can save it would be a cheaper digital RF body that would use M-mount lenses. When the film version of this sort of camera came out in the late 90's from Cosina/Voigtlander, it spurred significant interest in rangefinder photography from users who had previously found the price of entry too high. It stands to reason that many of those photographers stepped up to Leica's offerings as time went by. Any number of Leica users have called for Leica to partner with a Japanese camera company to create such a low cost body and then focus on their lenses rather than trying to R&D everything themselves. Given that the Minolta CL & CLE were both very popular when created 30 years ago, there is precedence for this sort of thing.

What's the bottom line Josh?

The Leica M8 is a very cool camera that despite a few flaws and quirks, performs very well. It is the only digital rangefinder on the market today. If I had an investment in Leica M lenses, I would buy one in a heartbeat. Should you buy one? Like I said, it depends on who you are:

  • If you are a rangefinder photographer who wants to make the leap to digital, you should buy it. As there really is no guarantee that another digital RF body will be coming down the pipeline any time soon.
  • If you are a rangefinder photographer who is on the fence about digital, you should probably use the money to buy a couple new lenses and a good scanner.
  • If you are a digital SLR photographer who has a little money in your pocket and wants to try this "rangefinder thing" out, but refuses to shoot film. I suggest you pick up a used Epson R-D1 until you are sure that rangefinders will work for you.
  • Finally, if you are a starry eyed photojournalism student who wants to follow in the footsteps of the great RF photographers, buy a Cosina/Voigtlander Bessa R2m, a 35/1.7 Aspherical Ultron, and a brick of Kodak Tri-X. Then save every other penny you've got for medical school, because photojournalists don't make any money these days.

Where to Buy

Photo.net's partners have the Leica M8 available. Their prices are fair and you help to support photo.net.

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Text and images ©2008 Josh Root.

Article revised March 2011.

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Shashikant Agarwal , July 18, 2008; 03:23 P.M.

Incidentally, there are now more details on the upgrade program here, including prices in USD.

Mike Tanner , July 18, 2008; 04:51 P.M.

Leica has a "test drive" program for the M8, if you're near a participating dealer. It's basically a free rental. If you're at all curious, as I was, the M8 is worth trying. I found the M8 focusing very precise and the images had wonderful detail at wide-open aperatures. Will I buy one? Unsure, but I did like it.

Sid Moore , July 18, 2008; 05:04 P.M.

Thanks for a thorough review. I agree, other than the magenta cast, my principal reason for not being attracted to this body is the wide angle/fast lens dilemma, especially give the high ISO issues.

I'm puzzled that the sensor specs aren't mentioned. Did I overlook them? (11 megapixels, 10 effective and CCD)

Jerry Lehrer , July 18, 2008; 07:09 P.M.

Mike,

You must be joking about the "free trial". The local dealer merely let me install my 35mm lens and take 3 shots on a SD (?) card that I paid for first. They did not want me to soil a new M8 which they could sell to a customer at full tourist price.

Jerry

david smith , July 18, 2008; 07:20 P.M.

As a Leica user for half a century, the one thing that I am most interested in is image quality, sharpness. How does the M8 compare to the best Canons or Nikons or for that matter to an M6 with the same lens?

Josh Root , July 18, 2008; 07:22 P.M.

This is just a note to say that there are still a few things I need to add to this article (US prices, specs, etc). But I was hustling to get it included in the newsletter today. You know me, everyday I'm hustling.

stephen gilbert , July 18, 2008; 07:27 P.M.

the test drive is no joke. leica is offering an m8, 50mm & 35mm lens in a combi bag free for the weekend. all you have to do is leave an imprint of your credit card in the amount of the kit, and its yours from friday 'til monday. if your leica dealer is not offering this, i suggest you get a new dealer.

D.B. Cooper , July 18, 2008; 07:52 P.M.

Cut it any way you want to, but the M8's a lemon. It should be obvious to anyone that Leica is currently trading on their name. Only the uninformed or the cognitively impaired will spend that much money on a camera that doesn't work right, let alone one with the limitations of slow frame rate, memory incompatibility, etc., in a digital camera.

What amazes me is that German engineering and Japanese production and digital savvy could allow such a mistake to actually get to market. Didn't anyone test the thing during development? Like, actually take pictures with it? They had to really work hard at putting out a product with these mistakes, but evidently the physical problems weren't enough...

In this day and age, it's both reprehensible and shocking that Leica's idea of correcting the problem is to tell their customers to use a filter. That's just a polite way of extending their middle finger at them. The truth is that they should recall the cameras and fix them properly. This would be true at any price point, but for what the M8 costs, IMO, they've defrauded anyone that bought one. For that, at the very least, they deserve to go the way of Contax, and the managers that directed this to happen need to lose their jobs. Their customers should be entitled to a full refund should they want one. What a shame a once justifiably proud brand has to stoop to used car lot business practices to make a buck!

I think the M-8 will be used in business schools as an example of slipshod product development and brand arrogance as 'the camera that sunk Leica'...a great business model of what not to do. It's almost as if US 'Big 3' auto execs from the 70s were involved.

Having cut my photographic teeth on my dad's IIIf red dial, I was hoping Leica would successfully transition to digital. Now, they'll never get my business.

Peter Mar , July 18, 2008; 08:00 P.M.

Thanks for the review. I own and use the M8 since january 2007 and I'm very pleased with this camera. I did not previously own an 'M' but last year I wanted to use these wonderful Leica lenses with film, so now I work with an MP and an M7 too. It's addictive... BTW, there's a typo in this sentence: "The fast, large and very expensive Leica Summicron 21/2" I'm sure you meant 28/2. Thanks again, Peter

Alastair Firkin , July 18, 2008; 08:31 P.M.


M8/75'lux

I have used the M8 since its release. It is not a perfect camera, but I've not found one of those. I do love "using" the rangefinder, and the M8 with a 75 summilux or 50 Noctilux is a very interesting tool.

My major complaint is the inaccuracy of the frames, which in some cases are almost 10% "tight". They were never that "generous" with film, and I think the margin could have been a bit tighter. When you only have 10 megapixels to use, you want to use them all. Overall, I wonderful but expensive camera. Sadly the upgrade path looks like a bit of a dead end really, but so was the wonderful DMR: that's modern manufacture I suppose.

Arthur Plumpton , July 18, 2008; 08:37 P.M.

Thanks, Josh. A different and valuable take on this little beast, with good value-added compared to previous reviews.

As one other has stated above, the bottom line is image quality. After a year with the M8 and prior Leica lenses (and Voigtlander), I am extremely pleased with the quality. But I would probably also be pleased with a Canon 5D or its newer equivalents, although a rangefinder is a very different mechanism. For those who enjoy photography controlled by the photographer and not by auto-everything, it is subjectively among the best there is, other than expensive digital Hassys or (better) a 45 MP medium format back on a LF type body with Rodenstock optics.

Thanks again. Great review.

Bob Blakley , July 18, 2008; 11:09 P.M.

An aspect of the camera not mentioned in Josh's excellent review is that the camera does not use an anti-aliasing filter in front of its sensor. AA filters are installed in most cameras to prevent moire patterns in finely textured subjects; they reduce moire essentially by blurring the subject slightly. The M8's lack of anti-alias filter means that the image that comes straight out of the camera is sharper than that which comes straight out of other cameras with sensors of comparable (about 10MP) resolution. This means among other things that little sharpening is necessary in post-processing. To my eye, M8 files look nicer than sharpened files out of many other 10-12MP cameras; your impression might be different.

Doug Williams , July 19, 2008; 12:01 A.M.

Like David I am most interested in image quality and how the M8 compares to other high end cameras. I used a Leica many years ago and was impressed with the image quality. For me superior image quality is the main, maybe the only reason to buy a M8.

Steve Unsworth , July 19, 2008; 02:09 A.M.

"How does the M8 compare to the best Canons or Nikons or for that matter to an M6 with the same lens?!"

Compared to my Canon 5D the M8 is sharper. I think this may be partly due to the fact that there is no anti-aliasing filter, and partly due to the superb glass.

The results with say a 24mm Elmarit can be breathtaking.

A few snaps here - in fact all the pages you can see linked to the right were taken with the M8...

http://www.steveunsworth.co.uk/PAW_blog/?page_id=94

Arturo Canalda , July 19, 2008; 04:01 A.M.

I've been an intensive Canon user since 1988. I have used most models of Canon from film to digital. My last Canon was an EOS 5-D. I've read a lot about Leica bodies and the superb quality of Leica Lenses. And also I've read a lot about Cartier-Bresson, Capa, and other "clasics" of photography.

Last year Santa gaves me a new mint M8 with a 50 Summilux 1.4. Suddenly my world chaged by 180 degrees. I've been transported to the real world of photography. I have discovered the "decisive moment" and also I have dicovered that I know nothing about photography.

With my Leica I have made my best photos. And of course I have discoverd that other ways to make photos are possible, but not so difficult, expensive and marvelous than making photos with a Leica!

Regards,

Arturo Canalda

Paul Hart , July 19, 2008; 04:42 A.M.

Thank you for the review.

I am a Leica enthusiast who had an M8 and a bag full of Leica glass. I have sold it all.

I sold it because I found that my best photos were taken with my dSLR or my Ricoh GR-D. That's just how it turned out for me.

Had it been a film M, I could have hung on to it knowing that time would not erode its value. Sadly, with the M8 being part electronics/computer gadget (and flawed at that), I felt I couldn't hang around to see what impact its successor had on its value. I suspect that's all too obvious.

Alex S. , July 19, 2008; 08:31 A.M.

The following was originally a response to Michael Kamber’s “Leica M8 Field Test: Iraq” that appeared in a thread discussing that article in the Leica and Rangefinder Photography Forum beginning June 10, 2008. I have cleaned up a number of typos and minor amibuities and cut out extraneous asides, but have changed nothing else.

As an M8 owner since January 2007 I am familiar with the camera's foibles described in Kamber's article. I cannot say whether or not the M8 is for Iraq. I can offer comment on a few of my experiences that match and do not match Kamber's. Before discussing the M8 I want to say that, unlike Kamber, I have had no trouble with my M7, bought used at Tamarkin in New York back in August 2005. It had been serviced by Leica and carried a one-year warranty. Kamber's bad experiences with his M7 is not unique I know. Happily they have not been mine. Now to the M8.

Noise is a problem at ISO 2500 and, to a leaser extent, at ISO 1200 but not so much at ISO 650 in my experience. With film it is generally true that the higher the ISO is the more grain you get. I recently shot a production of Hamlet at my university with a loaner M8 (more on that later) set at ISO 2500, my Epson RD-1s set at ISO 1600 and my M7 loaded with Fuji ISO 1600 color film. Scanned, the film was noisier than the M8 at ISO 2500 and the RD- 1s at ISO 1600. The M8 and RD-1s were about equal in noise.

For this theater performance (as others) I was sitting close to the stage. Because of this I had to use fairly quiet rangefinder cameras so as not to disturb the actors and the audience. High ISOs were unavoidable because of the dim lighting.

Kamber mentions the M8’s inaccurate frames. Indeed, he is right. In my recent article, "M8: 75 = 85?", in "Viewfinder" (Vol. 41, No 1, 2008) I proved that the M8's 75mm frames are ipso facto 85mm frames. I have calculated that the best lens of the 50mm frames would be 58mm. But that said, I've been cheerfully using my Summilux 75/1.4 on my M8 and am grateful for the latitude the 75mm frames afford. The Voigtlander 25/4P works brilliantly with the M8's 24mm frame lines. Kamber also mentions banding and odd colors. Last year when I shot A Midsummer Night's Dream at my university the color rendition in the theater (actually a gym) was so bad that I switched to black and white. I got extensive banding with ISO 2500. This year in shooting Hamlet the loaner M8 rendered color generally very well with the white balance set at Auto (the best I found for the complex lighting) and I got no banding. I have since shot my returned and repaired M8 at ISO 2500 and experienced no banding so far. Colors seem to equal the good-to-excellent color renditions I got when shooting Hamlet under very difficult lighting conditions.

Kamber says he often accidentally hits his M8 into self-timer mode with his flack jacket. This has not happened to me once. I do not wear a flack jacket, however, and cannot judge.

He also says that he was accidentally setting the ISO to 2500 with his flack jacket. I do not see how this is possible. I can see inadvertently activating “Set” with the flack jacket but changing ISO requires a separate right hand action that I don't think a flack jacket could do.

Kamber touches on a number of the M8’s quirks and build quality issues. The M8 has one quirk that Leica has not solved. Sometimes it freezes or shuts down and you have to take the bottom plate off, take out and put back the battery and then all is well. I’ve dealt with this. It is not what you want to do in the heat of battle in Iraq. I’ve had a few major build quality issues with my M8. I had to send it out for repair when I got a nasty line in all of my pictures. The M8 had other problem. Heating up for no apparent reason a few times was my most major concern. I sent my M8 to Leica Japan in Tokyo in March 2008 and received a loaner M8 the next day. Except for that quirk of occasionally freezing up, its performance was flawless. I got my M8 back in mid-May. My returned M8 has been functioning well at this writing ( July 18 2008).

There are other issues Kamber mentions that have to do with irksome design aspects. One is having to disembowel the M8 to change SD cards--a pain when your SD card is about to be confiscated because you shot illegal scenes. For me this has not been a problem, bearing in mind that I operate in Japan where I only have to be on the watch for knife-wielding maniacs. Kamber complains that you don't get a 35mm camera’s 28mm equivalent frame lines in the M8 and that using a 21mm lens with a 28mm external viewfinder is a drag because, among other things, it gives him too much depth of field. This is a problem of practically all digital cameras. That is why I pair my M8 and with a film M camera. I suggest using the Voigtlander 25/4P with the 24mm frame. It is almost equal to 28mm in a 35mm camera and offers less of a problem with depth of field than a 21mm lens acting as a 28mm lens. Kamber complains about strange exposures and off-colors with the M8. Yes, sometimes the M8's exposure is way off. I think the problem is that one sometimes inadvertently presses half-way when shooting, thus engaging the exposure lock. I've learned to only lightly touch the shutter release button (equipped with Mini-Softie) before shooting. I believe that with the various downloadable upgrades the color problem has been solved to a great extent.

Dreadful exposure compensation controls on the M8 are another Kamber complaint. I couldn't agree more. But the camera’s controls in general are very straightforward. Did Leica release the M8 too early? I believe it did. It needed at least another year of testing. Am I sorry I bought the M8? No. I like the thing in spite of its quirks. Most of the time it works well. Am I sorry I did not wait a year to buy my M8? No, no, no. It was about a thousand cheaper back then.

I guess my biggest regret in having the M8 is that my film cameras are underused.

Hamlet: M8 + Summilux 50/1.4 L9991723

Paris, Winter 2007: M8 + Summicron 35/2 L1001625

Osaka: M8 + Canon 85/1.5 (using 75mm frame lines) L1002222

Alex S. , July 19, 2008; 08:39 A.M.

Well, I see I missed on paragraph spacing toward the end.

Meant to ask, Josh. I did you actually buy an M8 or borrow one?

Another thing I must note. There has a evolved on photo.net a M8 hate cult. These are not angry ex-M8 owners or legitimate camera tests. They seem to be people who are using the M8 as an excuse to be mean-spirited.

scott kirkpatrick , July 19, 2008; 10:12 A.M.

I've been using the M8 since jan 2007, M2 long before that. I like the handling, the lack of an AA filter leading to exquisite detail and the contrasty Leica (and Zeiss) lenses that render this detail in the midtones. Bill Parsons, a Boston photog, is putting together a book with shots from the first year of the M8, contributed on the Leica User Forum. I have a gallery of M8 samples ranging from the first shots with Canon and Leica lenses from the 1950s to the present day ASPH wonders, at www.pbase.com/skirkp/leica_m8_samples . View them from back to front if you are interested in the current generation lenses.

scott

Steve Swinehart , July 19, 2008; 09:35 P.M.

"The M8 has the same viewfinder as the excellent one in the M7."

No - it does NOT have the same viewfinder as the M7. A new finder had to be designed specifically to account for the 1.3 factor with the lenses. While it may share some features in common with the M7 finder it is not the same finder.

"M8 does have some flaws, the most glaring of which is the magenta/IR light issue. "

No, no, and...no. The IR issue can fixed - and fixed permanently through the use of filters.

The most glaring problem with this camera is far and away the viewfinder which, with wide angle lenses, can have framing errors of 20%. Thankfully, you get more image, rather than less - but, with 28mm and shorter lenses, tight, accurate composition with a single exposure is impossible.

And, of course, as the distance varies between you and the subject - so does the viewfinder error and how you have to compensate for it. This means you cannot make tight compositions without "chimping" the LCD viewfinder to confirm the composition - and then shooting the subject again....chimping...shooting....just perfect for recording those serendipitous, fleeting moments.....

In fact, the wide Tri-Elmar with its separate viewfinder is far more accurate than the camera's viewfinder and a 28mm lens. I've spoken to Leica representatives about this, and the answer I got was that the current viewfinder is a completely new design to account for the crop factor - and it was the best they could do within the product development timeline to meet the introduction date.

Fine - in that case they obviously don't take photographs - they only design cameras, because if they did take photographs, the viewfinder would be accurate with all lenses.

Anthony Robins , July 20, 2008; 06:22 A.M.

I checked out the M8 as soon as ever i could, being a keen Leica user, and having a few lenses already. I didn't buy it for a couple of reasons. First, there was a caveat with everything: "yes, you can use your existing lenses but..." etc., and my favourite combination is M6 and 35mmF2 Summicron, and I couldn't see how i was going to get an equivalent 35mm look.

But secondly, when i picked it up and used it, I was underwhelmed. My experience of using my Leicas ever since my pristine second hand IIIf has been the joy in my heart every time I pick it up and use it. Of course the results are fantastic, but it's also about the process of creating those results. It just wasn't there with the M8, and that's an awful lot of money for a so-so feeling and a camera that I won't be using in 5 years time.

This second point is fundamental for me. I make my living from photography, and the blunt honest truth is that the vast majority of my clients are perfectly happy with the shots from my dslrs. They become images quickly in Lightroom and Photoshop, and it's quick and easy. I've got the hang of making autofocus work for me now, and the lenses are good enough. So when I shoot with the Leicas, it's to go on film, usually black and white, and I shoot it because i love to. I send the shots on to the client a few days later when they're developed and scanned, and they're usually delighted, because it's a bonus, it's the icing on the cake. The point is, in purely practical terms, I just couldn't see where the M8 would fit in, or what it would replace and do better.

I'd love Leica to come out with a new worldbeater, but it would have to be something new; a new concept in photography. The existing approaches are sewn up, and the M8 seems to be jumping up and down on the sidelines.

David Carreño , July 21, 2008; 03:47 A.M.

Hello Josh,

thanx for your nice review. Nevertheless I tell you my complaints to you and the rest of the persons reading this review. IMHO the first wrong step of Leica was that the M8 wasn't sufficiently tested by photographers. The Viewfinder lines for an 24 elmarit are confusing and you get such a different pic then you see it that cropping is a must. The other thing I don't understand how come that voigtlaender can produce rf cameras with an viewfinder for 21 mm lenses but leica can't. As they have done before they could deliver the m8 with different viewfinders so people who want to use a 28 (21 mm) can at least use it without an external vf. I don't think I'm expecting a lot of problematic improvement and this issues could have been covered for the first release if there would be a bit of listening of the professional industry. But it's not only leica that isn't listening. Canon, Nikon and Olympus also don't take care of this segment. Just remember the first model of compacts they delivered. I think of the Olympus 7070, Nikon 8400 and Canon G3. Manual controls positioned well and not in the menu, movable lcd. Really a backup for serious amateurs and professionals. Obviously improvements were needed but they didnt care. Instead they deliver poorer and sensless models like g9, 9600 and for olympus I dont even know. I would love that someone takes in consideration a compact bridge camera. the sigma dp1 was a good step but still without listening what the conscious photogs want.

PC B , July 21, 2008; 06:26 A.M.

"...Given that the strength of rangefinder photography has always been it's [its..] wide angle (shorter than 50mm) available light (faster than f/2) abilities,... "

Which left all available (low) light RF photogs in the 60ies, 70ies, and 80ies, to work with the pre-asph 1.4/35mm only. Hm. I cannot quite follow.

Neither can I follow those who think available/low light photography is defined by using 1600 ISO and up. In my memory it is not very long ago that ISO800 negative films gave dead ugly results and pushing slides to 800 gave 'that look' which only the 'journalistically inclined' liked. So, nobody did low light photography in these days? Ok they pushed - to get night shots on side streets or 'a picture' in red light bars. But only then.

All candle light pictures in Nat.Geo. were made on 200/400ISO slide film (maybe pushed +1 in the 90ies) plus some deep thinking about lighting, getting a stable shooting position, even posing, respectively instructing the subject and so forth. Think about it.

Going up to Leica2500/NiCa3200 is most often just cheap - even for theatre photogs. And simply a macho thing for all those ridiculous 'prosumers'. After the megapixel wars here we are in the midst of the high ISO war. Photography itself nowhere to be seen.

L DaSousa , July 21, 2008; 12:49 P.M.

A few corrections to note.

-The SLR existed since 1930s (Korelle). Many, many 35mm SLRs existed prior to 1970s, Nikon F of 1959 was the most obvious but there were others.

-Eisenstadt for certain used other than rangefinder. He used Nikon and Rollei also.

-David Alan Harvey has stated he uses Nikon DSLR

-There is no question the M8 sound is more evident than the M7. Mostly this is not the sound of the shutter himself but instead it is the motor which resets the shutter after each picture.

Miklos Szorenyi , July 21, 2008; 03:46 P.M.

I totally agree with Arturo Canalda; Leica M has changed my photography. I can't tell how much more excited I am to photograph with Leicas than with dSLRs. I just pray that my M8 won't break down on me one day. But then I still go back to my M6.

Peter Kowalchuk , July 21, 2008; 06:03 P.M.

I made the jump from M film to the M8 more than a year ago. The camera...and Leica...make me angry. My framelines are so far off that, instead of this being a 10Mp camera, it's more like a 7Mp camera. No more a camera for the decisive moment...this an "indecisive moment" camera. I'm a B&W guy, so I usually haven't have a problem with the magenta issue...until two weeks ago, that is. Then it hit and I was not able to reshoot (shooting color). I have a lot of money in Leica glass and love it. However, Leica's response to my frameline issue ("you experienced it with your M7, you just didn't realize it because of the delay in seeing your images") has so angered me (because it's just crap and so disrespectful of a long-time Leica user) that I'm going to sell the whole kit and kaboodle. Yes, the image quality is great, but gone is the ability to know...even though I'm not looking through the lens...what I will end up with when I click the shutter. I've read...and stopped reading...many of the discussions about Leica because so many seem monopolized by the Leica bashers who've never held the camera, much less made a photograph with one. But after more than a year of trial-and-error shooting with one, I feel I've earned the right to complain. Enough. Good photo making, all. Peter

Andy Piper , July 22, 2008; 05:03 A.M.

After 20 months, this review and the responses are sort of picking the scab off the M8's - uhh, unique - features. But a good job, Josh, regardless.

For me, it boils down to two simple facts. I find it less tiresome to do my own focusing than ride herd on some AF system with a mind of its own. And - if I never look at a ground glass for the rest of my life, it will be no loss to me whatever.

For all that some people think Leica is "all about the glass" - for me it is "all about the viewfinder".

The M8's image quality is at least AS good as any comparably-pixeled camera - except the big-sensor, big-pixel Canon 5D and Nikon D3/D700 at high ISOs (no question). And that's enough for me. The extra bucks go for the mechanical RF and the big bright viewfinder and the M-mount that takes those tiny lenses - just as they have for 30 years or more - not necessarily for some cosmically better image quality.

I don't even bother with the ASPH/APO/WHATEVER lenses - all mine are roughly 30-year-old designs that are plenty sharp and cost under $1000 each (usually well under).

Bottom line - if you are happy with SLRs, you're in fat city and can ignore the M8. If you like SLRs but think there might be something to this Leica glass business - well maybe there is, but not enough to make it worthwhile going with a camera style that is very much NOT an SLR.

A note on the frameline accuracy: The M8 frames are VERY accurate - when the lenses are used at their closest focusing distance. They become progressively less accurate the further you are from your subject.

I won't get into the optical reasons - but lenses "zoom" slightly as one focuses closer, and with an RF, that is not ttl viewing, the framelines are right only at one point in the zooming.

This was in fact also true of film Leicas, but was masked somewhat by things like slide mounts and negative carriers and the "normal" cropping of minilabs or magazine pages.

In digital we are used to having the whole image available - and Leica messed up in not recognizing that they could shave something off the safety factor that film used to need (unless you printed full-frame, black-border, which most people didn't).

As to the magenta/IR thing - Leica had good and specific reasons to order their Kodak sensors with thin IR filters. From an engineering standpoint WITH THE EXISTING Leica wideangle lenses - they made the correct choice. It was not a "mistake" in that regard. Their lenses ported from film days perform better if the filter glass covering the sensor is as thin as possible. End of story.

Where they DID screw up was in not realizing that they needed to be up-front about the "special needs" of the M8 for color work - perhaps blinded by the common prejudice that Leica rangefinders are "B&W cameras". They just figured most people wouldn't notice - Ooops!

Bottom line - RFs have (barely) survived because of their effect on the psychology of the taking of the picture - the moment, the all-sharp view, the simplicity. Once the button has been pushed and the moment passed, any advantage an RF has is gone. Was true with film - still true with digital.

If that has no special value - stick with SLRs. If it DOES have value - the M8 is the only current game in digital.

Marc Rochkind , July 22, 2008; 07:48 P.M.

Can you change the second sentence? "From 1930 into the 1970's, virtually every great 35mm image you can think of was taken with a rangefinder." I guess it should be 1950s, not 1970s. By then SLRs were widely used in photojournalism. Larry Burrows used one in Vietnam, for example.

Anthony Brookes , July 23, 2008; 06:13 A.M.

Thanks Josh for a common-sense review. Everything you say about rangefinder cameras is true and when I tried the M8 your comments rang all the bells. I'm not worried about the magenta issue as I'm mainly B&W. The M8 is a great camera but the price is disproportionate to say the orginal rangefinders (say a Leica III) by about 20%. When I have enough cash I shall buy one without hesitation. Maybe I should sell my other 35mm and 6x6 cameras to fund it.

Andrew Frackman , July 26, 2008; 07:14 P.M.

I recently used an M8 for 10 days in Israel. I usually shoot digital with a D200, although I use an M6 for film. I cannot stand carrying around the D200 with a good Nikon lens. The whole apparatus seems to be getting heavier and heavier. The Leica, of course, purports to solve the problem, in part. But, as we rangefinder users know, the rangefinder, whether it be the M6 or an M8 is no substitute for the versatility of a DSLR. I thought the M8 performed very well. Very much like my M6 in handling. Not having used an M7, I was not familiar with using aperture priority on a Leica. It seemed to work quite well once I got accustomed to it. The other nits that other reviewers have mentioned all ring true. Of course, my 35mm lens will not suffice on the M8, so I had to also rent, and would have to buy, a new shorter lens to get the 35mm aspect and experience of the M6. The battery life is not as good as on my Nikon. The internal software seems a bit clunkier, but it was not a problem since I use the on-bard software for little as I am a Lightroom user. I found the metering a bit tricky, to tell the truth. I know it should not be, having used an M6 for several years, but I really needed a full week to get the hang of it and to replicate the success of my Nikon. As for form, I love the Leica, but I thought keeping the Leica bottom was a bit silly. I understand why Leica did it, and why some die-hards would want it, but it is not really convenient. The images seemed very good. Whether they are $4,000 better than my Nikon with a fine Nikon lens is another question altogether. (I am still comparing the images, so perhaps I will have more to add on this.) The real issue for me is size and weight. And here, the M8 performs well and solves my needs quite well. Can it truly be that there is no alternative for serious photographers who do not want to shlep around that big Nikon or Canon and the heavy glass lenses? Perhaps that alone is worth the expense of the Leica. If I thought that film had a future, I would stick to my M6, continue to digitize my slides and images and forget it. Alas, we all know where film is headed, and unless I come up with a good solution to the weight problem other than the M8, I may just have to bite the bullet.

Tom Rose , July 27, 2008; 10:55 A.M.

The price of an M8 buys me 500 rolls of film and pays to develop them. If I buy B&W in bulk and develop it myself that is more like 1000 rolls. Heck the INTEREST on the price of an M8 gets me 50 rolls of B&W film every year, and the chemicals to develop them. These days I shoot about a roll a week on average. Unless the price of film goes stratospheric guess I'll just carry on using my M6 and a scanner. With the bonus that I have no worries about backups.

Josh Root , July 30, 2008; 01:11 P.M.

I have updated a few things on the review:

  • Fixed grammatical errors and typos.
  • Added USD to upgrade prices.
  • Added some Leica marketing-speak and link to M8 specifications.
  • Uploaded Jamie's CaptureOne profiles to the PN server and added link to them.
  • Added an image that shows result of using Jamie's CaptureOne profiles.
  • Clarified viewfinder/frameline situation.
  • "Which left all available (low) light RF photogs in the 60ies, 70ies, and 80ies, to work with the pre-asph 1.4/35mm only. Hm. I cannot quite follow." This is a result of a typo. I had meant to say "f2 and faster" rather than "faster than f/2" and "50mm and wider" rather than "wider than 50mm". Changes have been made.

Things I did not change:

  • "No, no, and...no. The IR issue can fixed - and fixed permanently through the use of filters." Adding a filter to a lens does not "fix" a problem with a camera body. It is just a workaround. If there was a way to add a filter to the body, THAT might be considered a "fix".
  • "The SLR existed since 1930s (Korelle). Many, many 35mm SLRs existed prior to 1970s" The SLR was not commercially successful until the very end of the 1950's. And just like digital, working photographers did not jump to the "new toy" the instant it came out. RF cameras held strong through the 60's.
  • "Eisenstadt for certain used other than rangefinder. He used Nikon and Rollei also." I did not say that they only used RF cameras. Many photographers use multiple cameras. But these guys were well known to have been RF photographers.
  • "David Alan Harvey has stated he uses Nikon DSLR" Here's a video of DAH working in Cuba that shows him very clearly using his M's. He may use DSLR's now. But that doesn't erase the past.
  • "Can you change the second sentence? 'From 1930 into the 1970's...' I guess it should be 1950s, not 1970s. By then SLRs were widely used in photojournalism." As previously discussed, SLR's were not "widely" used in the 1950's and the 60's were a decade of flux for RF/SLR. Given that the first SLR truly popular with PJ's was the 1959 Nikon F, this should be pretty obvious.
  • "Larry Burrows used one in Vietnam, for example." I'm not going to say that Larry Burrows didn't use an SLR. But on page 221 of "Larry Burrows: Vietnam" (a great book) you can see him with 2 M's around his neck (and a 3rd unknown camera, likely an SLR) in 1971 and here you can see his M3 recovered from the crash where he died. But thanks for reminding me about Burrows, I have added him to the list of RF photographers in the opening section.

L DaSousa , August 01, 2008; 05:25 P.M.

I see where you have defended your statements. However you say

From the 1930's into the 1970's, virtually every great 35mm image you can think of was taken with a rangefinder.

Yet everyone who is aware of the iconic images from the 1960s including Vietnam, the American Hippie, politic, and music culture (Linda McCartney for one example of a photographer) is aware that a large proportion of those were captured by Nikon F SLR, and some as well with Pentax (much of McCartney's for example).

You also say

Hallowed names from the "golden age" of photojournalism all used rangefinders for much (if not all) of their photography, including Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Larry Burrows, and Alfred Eisenstadt. Now, to be fair, the SLR didn't exist yet

Which is technically false and quite different from saying that they were not commercially successful. I do not intend to be argumentive, however if you intend your review not only for those who are familiar with it, but for the unfamiliar as well, you may see where such a person, confronted at the start by glaring historical inaccuracy, might doubt the credibility of that what follows. Which would be most unfortunate because it is indeed a good and just review.

Zapata Espinoza , August 09, 2008; 07:26 A.M.

>In this day and age, it's both reprehensible and shocking that Leica's idea of correcting the problem is to tell their customers to use a filter. <

well, Leica OWNERS like to wear the duncecap round the neck.

Mark Gay , August 23, 2008; 05:52 P.M.

Sometimes people who really know stuff get to post on the Internet. Josh Root’s review of the M8 is one such post.

There is much plain, unarguable logic in this review. This bit was so well said, it made me laugh:

“So, if you are worried about dead batteries leaving you hanging, you should be using a film camera, and not a digital anyway.”

When the partly electronic M7 came out, there were hours, days and months on the Internet worrying about batteries. ‘What if I buy an M7 and my batteries die. Surely I should buy a fully manual MP?’ I’m sure many of those same people now use digitals without a care in the world but they've found other things to obsess about.

“People who require super-accurate framing need to get a SLR with a 100% finder. For the rest of us, we just learn to be a little loose with our composition when using a RF camera and understand that we may have to crop later to get the exact image we were looking for.”

And

“If you are used to the fancy 100 point metering systems in today's DSLR's, this basic metering may confuse you. But 30 minutes with a 1980's photography "how to" book will bring you up to speed. likewise, the simple aperture priority exposure mode is not nearly as fancy as what you will find on a Nikon D300. But it works perfectly once you understand what it can and cannot do.

“It bears repeating that the real advantage to these systems is that once you know how to use them, they will not surprise you. The same cannot be said for some other digital cameras these days.”

I sympathized wholeheartedly with this:

“If you are the kind of person who cannot imagine spending $5400 on a camera that was not perfect in every way, you should probably keep walking. I'm not sure where you will end up (Canon and Nikon have their own issues even at that price point), but it sure won't be here in M8-land.”

One criticism:

“The M8 does have some flaws, the most glaring of which is the magenta/IR light issue. It is hard to imagine a camera from Canon or Nikon making it all the way to production with a flaw like that.”

Uh, they most certainly did. Anyone who insists magenta casts is purely an M8 problem doesn’t read very widely.

I have one comment to add about the M8’s design that I don’t think anyone has raised before. Why is the shutter dial recessed on the M8 when on the M7 the same size dial aligns with the front of the camera body and is thus much easier to spin?

The M7’s frame counter, shutter release, and speed dial are centred on one line, neat and accessible. The M8’s shutter release is ahead of the speed dial, forcing you to curve your finger slightly to reach the dial. Why?

A thorough reading of this review would save a lot of space on the net:

“If you are sitting there saying to yourself, "I could buy a Nikon D3 and a nice lens for the price of that M8 body," then you probably aren't who Leica is aiming at with the M8. The person who buys an M8 isn't likely to see the D3 as a suitable alternative because the D3 is not a rangefinder.

“To a rangefinder nut, hearing someone say something like that is as strange as a sports car nut hearing someone say, "Uh, for the price of the Lotus, you could buy a Ford F350 4x4 diesel." Why would a sports car nut do something like that?”

As to those who ask why review a camera two years after its release, why not? Even if the camera doesn't change, our perceptions, our standards change. This review suggests the M8 meets the challenge even better than it did when released.

Marco Maroccolo , August 24, 2008; 03:21 A.M.

One of the best review of the M8 out there. Many thanks Josh.

Dick Arnold , September 13, 2008; 05:45 P.M.

Josh I have gained added respect for you as a writer and reviewer. Better by far than the horde of reviewers on the net. I had a rangefinder that was a Minolta that was a dead on knockoff of a post WWII Leica. I forgot the model number. I lost it when it was launched out of a motorcycle saddle bag after hitting a very deep pothole in Thailand during the Viet war. It had a 50mm lens and nothing else. It was convenient, easy to use and I got good pictures. I wish I had it back vice the forty pound camera bag I carry around now as I don't think all this crap makes me any better just more flexible and versatile with more control over my picture process but five grand to get a magenta cast is a little steep.

John Lovelace , September 18, 2008; 03:13 P.M.

Changing the subject slightly, as a Leica M6 owner and user, I'm interested in your advice to "buy a brick of Tri-X." Why Tri-X and not Ilford or Kodak CN?

Image Attachment: filevjstUX.jpg

El Fang , September 18, 2008; 08:34 P.M.

Since Michael Kamber is mentioned in the comments area of this review I think it is only fair that his original review be linked. To add some balance to predictable gushing of amateurs here and elsewhere, people might also be interested in hearing input from working professionals who actually rely on these tools to get the job done: Leica M8 - is it any good? and Leica M8.2. Several Lightstalkers members also have their own take on the Kamber M8 review.

Peter Hamm , September 26, 2008; 09:59 A.M.

As a non-Leica user I am mystified by the idea that anybody would want to spend that much money on a camera that requires a special filter to make your lenses work right.

That alone makes me think that Leica needs an M9 to remain viable.

Nuno Borges , September 27, 2008; 01:21 P.M.

As far as its sensors are not full frame I don't think a rangefinder will succeed.

Jorge Diaz , October 12, 2008; 05:53 P.M.

I can't read all the comments but I 'd like to point out an underlooked strength of the rangefinder lens vs. the SLR lens.The modern SLR lens has a hard working diaphragm....This means the diaphragm,for the most part is fully open (blades retracted) to allow for a usable brighter viewfinder.Shoot and the diaphragm goes to work...It snaps into chosen aperture and back to full retraction very fast.In fast cameras it means it repeats this cycle many times per second.Now think.What can it do to diaphragm blades and the springs that keep them retracted ? I have photos that sometimes show weak resolution over the corners .Sometimes they don't. I surmise that what happens is that the leafs don't aways open symmetrically. Actually most of the SLR lenses I have never open symmetrically.The Leica lenses I have do.Even the Summar from the 1930s.

Torben Daltoft , October 23, 2008; 12:40 A.M.

Lousy!

Roy Skridlov , November 05, 2008; 08:50 A.M.

Any way you look at it, the price is simply insane. A gold-plated tap amongst cameras.

nate johnson , December 14, 2008; 05:58 P.M.

Wonderful review honest and answers the scary M8 questions

Paul Bartholomew , December 15, 2008; 10:00 A.M.

I've heard nothing but good things about the Leica M8 and I'm sure Leica will improve upon it. They have become agressive recently with developement of the new S2 system and I'm sure the new findings will help the traditional side of Leica such as the M series.

I have yet to update my M lenses for digital compatibility but may wait till a new body comes out. Perhaps a better M body with higher resolution. It will be a while I'm sure.

Roberto Moreira , December 18, 2008; 10:50 P.M.

Gee, I sure must have made a mistake. I got an M8 and was happily pleased with the results until I read the comments here. How can I possibly produce fine photographs with a camera some 'sages' don't like? Ignorance is bliss I guess.

Robert Gordon , December 22, 2008; 06:04 A.M.

Changing the subject slightly, as a Leica M6 owner and user, I'm interested in your advice to "buy a brick of Tri-X." Why Tri-X and not Ilford or Kodak CN?

Aa friend who runs a photo lab told me that at a recent dealers' show he learned that Fuji plans to stop producing their C41 photo-finishing machine in the near future. That means we will have to either purchase C41 kits or resort to film like Tri-X. The latter is the route I plan to go.

As an aside: I live in Michigan and am finding it difficult to purchase fixer. B&H says fixer is an in-store item only. Finally, Calumet in Chicago sold me some. Is this situation a function of state statutes and case law?

CPeter Jørgensen , December 23, 2008; 07:18 P.M.

If you need fixer, here is the formula for Kodak Rapid Fixer concentrate. You can make it yourself. All the chemicals are available from commercial chemical supply houses on the web,

PART A: 40-45 Water (007732-18-5) 40-45 Ammonium Thiosulfate (007783-18-8) 5-10 Sodium Acetate (000127-09-3) 1-5 Boric Acid (010043-35-3) 1-5 Ammonium Sulfite (010196-04-0) 1-5 Acetic Acid (000064-19-7) PART B: 70-75 Water (007732-18-5) 15-20 Aluminum Sulfate (010043-01-3) 11 Sulfuric Acid (007664-93-9)

WORKING SOLUTION (FILM): 80-85 Water (007732-18-5) 10-15 Ammonium Thiosulfate (007783-18-8) 1-5 Sodium Acetate (000127-09-3) <1 Boric Acid (010043-35-3) <1 Ammonium Sulfite (010196-04-0) <1 Acetic Acid (000064-19-7)

Bob Dickerson , January 07, 2009; 06:34 A.M.

I purchased a M8.2 after being favorablly impressed with the images from my D-LUX 4. To my eye, the images produced using the M8.2 are no better than those produced by the D-LUX4. I've sold the M8.2 and sundry equipment in favor of the D-LUX, I'll buy a Titan if I can find one...

Andrew Milbourn , February 07, 2009; 04:45 P.M.

If you want to try your hand at rangefinders you could get the Russian immitation Leica, the Zorki 4 35mm camera. I think they are going for $50 on ebay. I had one for several years as a ateenager. They are good in low light as they can be handheld at very low speeds and have relatively fast lenses.

Andrew Milbourn , February 07, 2009; 04:46 P.M.

If you want to try your hand at rangefinders you could get the Russian immitation Leica, the Zorki 4 35mm camera. I think they are going for $50 on ebay. I had one for several years as a teenager. They are good in low light as they can be handheld at very low speeds and have relatively fast lenses.

Dennis Ng , March 01, 2009; 08:09 A.M.

Might need some updates now RD1x is out.

Michael C , March 21, 2009; 12:50 P.M.

Excellent, well-written article and review! I fall into the category of one of those long-time Leica-owner wannabes, but as most people, have had to watch the $.

I had the pleasure of working with an M6 several years ago, and fell in love with Leicas! For some reason, when I had that thing in my hands, it just inspired me, and my artistic juices began to flow!

I hope to soon be getting an M8, as it will fit very well into my type of photography (fine art). I currently use an Olympus Evolt, and while it is a wonderful camera, I am getting of the age that the myriad of technologies and multi-use buttons just don't do it for me. Give me the good old-school contols that I learned photography on, along with the nicety of digital!

BEVERLY MENESES , May 11, 2009; 11:39 P.M.

Is there a way i can set my leica m8 to black and white?

Clemens M , May 13, 2009; 05:36 P.M.

The M9 will be mine - provided Leica puts a 16-20MP full 24x36 sensor into it. The old 10MP crop sensor is really outdated.

J. Steven Ueckert , June 02, 2009; 10:15 A.M.

Though nearly a year has passed, I find this review timely. Thanks for your efforts, update and the comments of many here.

I have gone through nearly a dozen M bodies from my first M3 in 1973 through a pair of M6's (.72 & .85) that I still have. I am working towards putting together a compact darkroom so that I can once again work with Tri-X and my Leicas. I already have a film scanner acquired to digitize past work.

As I already had a few lenses, and the original views/reviews of the M8 were less than stellar (Michael Kamber among others) I was hesitant to spend the money to acquire an M8. Not that I couldn't, but I wouldn't. A few months ago I did, finally, get a R-D1s. It has its quirks, but it is not a bad camera. Just as the M2 with a Leicameter MR is a dated version of the M6, either in the hands of one who is determined can make comparable images. So it is with the Epson digital rangefinder, (in my opinion.) Arguments made by some that at 6 mp the sensor is too small obviously never worked with any of the early digital SLRs up through the Canon EOS 1D (Mk I) or Nikon D1H, both of which had 4 meg sensors. I can easily make a quality 16 X 20 from an ISO 200 Raw file from my R-D1s. As such it is big enough for me.

But while the Epson R-D1s is a working digital RF, it isn't a Leica. The same analogy can be made that the Nikon SP and Canon 7S were quality RF cameras, but they weren't a M3 or M2.

My appetite is yet to be fully satisfied for a digital M body. The M8 just isn't enough of an improvement over the Epson to justify acquiring one. I am now considering the M8.2, even with its 1.33x crop. I wish Leica would once and for all commit to either bringing out a full frame sensor (24 x 36mm) or kill the rumors once and for all. Of course I seem to recall a discussion years ago that Leica wouldn't be doing a digital M body, then I guess Epson forced their hand.

As far as needing an IR filter to use the M8/M8.2, my response is, so what? I regularly used either yellow or orange filters on my lenses for my M6's when I was shooting B&W and keep UV filters on them otherwise. That's always been a plus for a RF shooter, one can use the R60 (red) filter and still see unfettered through the viewfinder. And for those who take issue with needing a filter on an expensive camera/lens combination to get a quality image, my guess is they have never worked in large format with an ultra wide angle lens. If you are into swings and tilts with a 75 Grandagon-N or Super Angulon, you might want to consider using the correct graduated ND filter to maintain consistent illumination to the edges of the frame.

Will I make the leap to the M8.2, I'm not yet completely sold. The Epson R-D1s is not too bad of a camera, I have made many images with it that I consider "keepers." The failing of the Epson body is its short RF base and associated lack of focussing accuracy with longer or faster lenses. As a body behind either the Voigtlander 15mm, Zeiss Distagon 18mm, Voigtlander 28mm/f-1.9 or 35mm Summicron, it works well enough. The 21mm/f-3.4 Super Angulon was tried once and permanently returned to the M6, it vignettes too much even for correction in PS CS3. But until I actually use the digital M, I will still be mighty curious as to its potential.

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Jake P , June 04, 2009; 03:11 P.M.

M8.2 Design Shortcomings

I'm glad I have this camera because I want a digital Leica, but there are things I do not like. Factors that determine mechanical control of the camera can too easily be inadvertently changed on the M8, M8.2. The camera is a changeling. It is not something that I can have firm faith in—that it is what I think it is; that settings haven’t changed without my realizing it. I feel a bit like I am groping and hoping with my M8.2. I do not experience the confidence I enjoy with my M6.

I don’t feel as sure about composition as I do with the frame lines my M6.

I find the protruding menu buttons annoying. They are too easily pressed and therefore too easily trigger the menu. I wish they were shorter and guarded like the lens release button. Leica could easily sculpt this excellent, proven design to surround the menu buttons.

The User Profile can inadvertently and too easily be turned on and reset, resulting in loss of preferred settings of EV and Compression. This happened to me in bright sun, when I wanted to change ISO quickly. Since the menu was on without me realizing it, my button selection sequence became confused. DNGs became JPGs and EV was reset to “0.” It took me a while to figure out that settings had changed, let alone why; wrecked my day. User Profile should be a little less accessible, perhaps in the Menu rather than under the Set button.

Another thing I'm not crazy about is the shutter speed dial. I wish it had a detente position so I could feel where it is without looking at it, as with my M6. [It’s something I appreciated in my Nikkormat—the shutter speed lever was at a 15th when it lay over the lens release button. I could count and feel my way up and down the speed scale.] The large M8 dial turns too freely when inserting or withdrawing the camera from the carrying bag, either by friction from contact against the interior wall of the bag, or by a grazing finger when releasing the camera into the bag, or reaching to grasp it in the bag, rather like the mode dial on the D70. On my M6, the smaller diameter shutter speed dial is inset, preventing inadvertent changes. Shutter speed is changed only by deliberate action.

I’d like to mention the element of digital psychology. I think and shoot full frame with my M6, but without a rebate to frame my digital shots, the discipline it imposes on cropping is lost. Rebate is a signature on each frame.

Leica should be an extension of the photographer. The M8 and M8.2 make the photographer an extension of the camera.

nate johnson , July 07, 2009; 10:06 P.M.


M8 things to know

Shoot back... I' ve shot with M4P and M6's for awhile they are die hard machines and are well designed as we all know. The M8 arrives and much talk of its has many faults but it does have many a plus. The tool or camera is easy to use on the street it is simple. No bells in fact Leica didn't even offer whistles! So things to know the framelines are incorrect period, has nothing to do with coded or non coded lenses. The only lens that is dead on is the 40 summicron but you must file of a small bit of the bayonet ,this brings up the 50 lines and is right on the mark (if you ride the edge of you frame)This also allows the 35 lines to come up in the M6. Using The 28 mm lens you need to use the 24mm framelines, The 21mm is the full frame of the whole window. Also turning on the Lens detection UV+IR will help the color! Why I dont know but we tested it at the Maine Media workshops in Antonin Kratochvil class and it proved to be correct. Upgrades? well that is your choice it seems like a big band aid for a little problem. I traveled/worked with the M8 for 1 year now in USA, Europe and South East Asia the camera performed flawless! The new firmware helps some with the noise but it still is a electronic camera and not a mechanical camera,Buy the grip and extra batteries and just shoot back.

William Craig , September 28, 2009; 11:25 P.M.

Through reading many a review, this being one of the finest, I have decided to acquire one of these monsters. It may take awhile, considering I am only the prime age of 16, but I think it'll be a nice, fun, and educational tool for me. So thanks, for the wonderful review.

J. Steven Ueckert , September 29, 2009; 08:02 A.M.


Sidewalk Seen

Since my comment of June 2, '09, I have acquired the M8.2. I wish I could have had this camera 6 years ago when the limitations of my job forced me from film to digital and I had to set my M6's on a shelf. While no camera is perfect, despite whatever flaws the M8.2 has, it is a very usable camera and it is a Leica.

David W. Griffin , January 18, 2010; 05:27 P.M.

I too wish I could have bought the M8 when I converted to digital, but it took till now for the price of used models to fall to barely attainable levels. It feels like a Leica, works like a Leica, and the images are every bit as good as my M2s gave me. I'm pretty satisfied so far.

I haven't noticed the IR contamination problem, but am looking forward to doing some IR work, so I'm actually pleased it has this "problem." I wish it were 18MP and full frame, but the M8 is everything I need for now. And it's lighter and less bulky than my DSLRs.


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