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. The low-noise CCD image sensor with a resolution of 10.3 megapixels has been specifically matched to the compact lens design to guarantee superlative photographic quality.
The Leica M8 digital rangefinder body continues the look and feel of the legendary M-series 35mm rangefinder cameras. The M8 has the same rounded contours and satin chrome or black finish as Leica's M7 film camera. It also shares the same rangefinder focusing system. Imaging is handled by a large 10.3-megapixel Kodak CCD sensor. It accommodates all M-mount interchangeable lenses from Leica, Zeiss, and Voigtlander. The M8 automatically provides noise reduction for long exposures, has a high ISO 2500 setting at full resolution, a fast 1/250 second flash synch speed, and an all-metal focal plane shutter with a shutter speed range from 4 seconds to 1/8000 of a second.
Viewfinder shows scene outside image area to help catch the "decisive moment"
Automatic parallax correction
Sturdy build quality
Large 2.5-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels
Wide ISO range - 160 to 2500
Compatible with Leica M & Zeiss M lenses back to 1954
Excellent GNC flash control
1/250 flash sync
Noise reduction for long exposures
New M-TTL Flash System
Dedicated top LCD for battery and number of exposures
Histogram option for auto review
Digital noise evident over ISO 640
Requires screw-on IR filters for color work, so that black does not take on a magenta cast
White Balance settings shifted
Louder shutter than M7 35mm rangefinder
Battery lasts only 100 images
Bulky battery charger
No protection from water and dust
0.68 x magnification for viewfinder
No SDHC support for 4 GB SD cards
Low burst rate 2 fps
No image stabilization available
First 1500 units produced require factory recall for sensor circuit board upgrades to fix point light smearing, image banding, and ghosting
Has 8-bit resolution, not claimed 16-bit
Occasional "freezing" of controls
I've been using the Leica M8 Rangefinder digital camera for the past three months, shooting trade shows, portraits of my granddaughter, and a trip to Florence, Italy. I am delighted with the M8's lightweight, compact design, and unobtrusiveness for street photography.
Leica rangefinders were the favorite of many famous photographers, including Henri Cartier- Bresson, Ernst Haas, Alfred Eisenstadt, and Sebastiao Salgado. The Leica M rangefinder is revered for street photography, reportage, and capturing meaningful images of people in their normal, daily activities. Because the cameras are small, precise, and well crafted, they are also very popular with collectors. Older Leica cameras routinely appear in auctions and have been sold for up to five figures. Leica's rangefinder lenses often are praised for their jewelry-like workmanship and an almost mythic optical superiority.
While there has been much praise for the M8's ability to produce superb images, there has also been a firestorm of criticism about the camera's tendency to produce banding, streaking, ghosting, and "blooming" around bright lights at night when set to high ISO levels (see my M8 photo with ghost images and "blooming" around bright lights). The sensor's design also makes it unusually sensitive to infrared (IR) wavelengths, causing color shifts that can give black synthetic fabrics or hair appear a purple or magenta cast (See my photos of black dresses in window display in Florence).
However, the Leica recall did not fix color problems caused by the high IR sensitivity of the sensor. Instead, all M8 owners who registered their cameras on the company's website will be sent two different sized and free infrared filters. Unfortunately, delivery of the filters has been delayed and I have yet to receive my two filters. Leica also offered each M8 owner a new Leica M lens at a 30% discount. I signed up for a new Tri-Elmar 16-18-21mm f/4.0 kit at an $1100 savings, but it has not yet arrived.
The photos and comments in this review are based on my own early production Leica M8, before it was sent in for the sensor board repair. Even though my M8 was one of the first 1500 cameras, and exhibited the problems listed above, I decided to keep it because I was extremely pleased with the excellent overall image quality. I was also reassured when Leica CEO, Stephen Lee, sent personal letters to me and other early owners detailing the defects and a plan for their elimination, including repairing the sensor at no charge to the owner.
Leica M8 Features
The Leica M8 looks and feels like their M7 35mm film rangefinder camera. And like the M7, it lacks many features found on today's digital cameras. There's no video mode, image stabilization, continuous capture, auto focus, selectable aspect ratios, scene modes, or LCD composition grid. With these standard features missing, just what does a $4795 digital rangefinder camera have to offer the discriminating photographer?
Simplicity is the answer. Because the M8 is so simple, there are few things to get in the way of the pure process of taking pictures. The M8 also provides a digital platform that offers access to the full range of legendary Leica-M rangefinder lenses. These lenses are quite expensive -- the 50mm f/1.0 Noctilux lens costs $4800-- so Leica owners often have a considerable investment in just a few lenses. Epson's discontinued R-D1 was the first digital rangefinder to accommodate the Leica M lenses. But the M8 is the only digital camera to offer the full Leica experience that made the M-series rangefinder a favorite for street photographers.
Leica used the M8 to introduce their new M-TTL electronic flash metering system. The camera's exposure metering determines the flash power for correct flash exposure. To do this, the camera uses a pre-flash to calculate the correct duration and flash output. I was able to use the M-TTL flash metering with two different external flash units. Easiest to use was Leica's diminutive SF 24D hot shoe flash unit. I also used the more powerful and versatile Metz 54 MZ-4i, in combination with the SCA 3502 M5 Leica adapter.
Leica M8 Design
Leica set out to design the M8 as an M7 with a digital sensor. They wanted it to maintain the M7's look, feel, and operation. The all-metal, magnesium body is rugged and well balanced and the synthetic leather covering makes it easy to grip. Bottom and top plates are either black lacquer or silver chromium painted milled brass. While the M8 weighs the same as the M7 film camera (590 grams), it is 3mm thicker, front to back. Both the M7 and M8 are aided by the addition of an accessory Leica handgrip.
The M8's front is almost identical to the M7's. It features a bayonet M-lens mount set between the lens release button and a viewfinder frame selection lever. The camera's top is flat, with two control dials: one combines the shutter release, cable release, power on, drive mode, and self-timer switch; while the other sets the shutter speed between 4 seconds and 1/8000 of a second. At the far left of the top panel is a small window that shows battery status and the number of pictures remaining on the memory card.
The bottom panel of the M8 is removable, just like the M7's. But instead of film, the compartment accesses a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and SD memory card. A twist knob secures the plate and then folds away flat. The back panel contains the M8's 2.5-inch LCD monitor and menu controls. The remaining feature on the M8's body is the all-important viewfinder and range focusing window, set at the camera back's upper left hand corner.
The M8's rangefinder focusing system matches the M7's in clarity, sharpness, and ease of use. It projects pairs of bright-line, parallax-corrected frames in the viewfinder for 24 and 35mm, 28 and 90mm, or 50 and 75mm lenses. The front panel frame lever allows one to preview any of the other bright-line frame pairs. Because the M8 sensor is smaller than a 35mm film frame, there is a 1.33x digital crop factor. So my Leica 21mm f/2.8 Elmarit wide-angle lens has a field of view comparable to a 27mm lens when it's mounted on the M8. The bright-line frames in the M8's viewfinder are smaller to account for the longer effective focal length.
Putting a digital sensor in the M7 body presented technical challenges due to the short distance between the rear lens element and the film plane. Adjustments had to be made to adapt the imaging sensor to the rangefinder's unique design. They made the sensor smaller (18 x 27 mm) than a full 35mm frame (24 x 36mm) to reduce vignetting, replaced the sensor's standard image-blurring moiré filter with an extra-thin protective glass cover, and added microlenses around the periphery of the sensor to reduce vignetting. Finally, they added identifying coding to every new Leica M-lens. Based on the lens code, the M8's processor applies lens-specific corrections for vignetting and color artifacting.
I found the M8 a joy to use. It's far less bulky than a digital SLR, weighs less, and fits more easily in the hands. Top and rear controls are simple and placed for easy access. Previous rangefinder and 35mm SLR users will notice that the film advance lever is missing (because there's no film!). The M8 power switch has four positions - off, single shot, continuous, and self-timer. The three-step shutter release activates the exposure meter with a gentle pressure. More pressure actives exposure lock when the camera is in "A" mode (aperture priority). Pressing the button all the way down fires the shutter. There is an exception. When the power switch is set to self-timer, any pressure on the shutter button starts the timer countdown. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to use aperture priority when you're using the self-timer.
Left: Leica M8 top controls Right: Leica M8 lcd screen and dial
I love the M8's viewfinder. It is just as sharp and bright as my Leica M7, making it superior to most of my other cameras - film or digital. Because the M8 doesn't use a mirror, it provides an unobstructed view of the scene that isn't interrupted when the shutter fires, as happens with a single-lens-reflex camera. That means I continue to see the scene as the photo is taken and can, as Leica puts it, "capture the decisive minute." This is especially critical when waiting for a subject to open their eyes or relax their facial expression. It also lets the photographer see the blink of the subject's eyes if the flash is too direct.
I also find focusing with a rangefinder fast and effective. The M8's viewfinder has a bright central patch that sits at the center of the framing lines. You focus by rotating the focus ring until two separate images come together. Unlike auto-focus systems, rangefinder focus works fine in very low light, allowing accurate focusing as long as the images can be seen in the viewfinder. Also, unlike auto focus cameras, rangefinder performance does not change from lens to lens. To improve the M8's rangefinder accuracy, I added Leica's 1.25x viewfinder magnifier which screws onto the outer ring of the rear panel viewfinder. Unfortunately, I found that the M8's standard rangefinder works better in landscape (horizontal) than in portrait (vertical) mode, a drawback for a camera that is so good for unobtrusive portrait work and reportage.
I was particularly pleased with the M8's rear-panel LCD monitor. It is the sharpest and brightest I've used on any digital camera. The menus use large, clear text that I can read without my glasses and images are easy to see outdoors and at sharp angles. I was delighted that the M8 can be programmed so that the automatic review (photo is displayed for a moment immediately after it's taken) includes an RGB histogram. Reviewed mages can be enlarged up to 4 times to check on sharpness. At maximum, the image is enlarged so much that one pixel on the LCD screen represents one pixel on the sensor (100%). The direction arrows inside the control dial move the view around the enlarged image. This simple, intuitive control is a vast improvement over that found on my Canon EOS-5D or EOS-1D digital SLRs, which require the photographer to press two buttons at the same time to navigate around an enlarged image.
Leica M8 image review with histogram
Leica M8 playback mode with image info and histogram displayed
Leica M8 Settings Menu with Compression function selected
Leica M8 main menu with Color Saturation function selected
In summary, I found the M8 strengths impressive, including the fast 1/250 of a second flash synch speed, its wide sensitivity range of ISO 100 to 2500, and its high resolution, sharp, contrasty RAW images. The M8's body and lenses are significantly smaller and lighter than those of any single lens reflex film or digital camera I have used, making it my favorite travel camera. The wide ISO range, bright viewfinder, and rangefinder focus mechanism make it great for dark situations where auto focus might not work well. These benefits, plus the M8's unobtrusive nature, allow me to get photographs of people who might otherwise refuse.
Offsetting its strengths are the M8's limitations: Its lack of autofocus and inability to mount long telephoto lenses means that the M8 can't match a pro DSLR for wildlife or sports photography. Although the Leica M system includes a 90mm f/4 macro lens, it can't focus as close as a 1:1 macro lens on a Nikon or Canon DSLR. This puts the M8 at a disadvantage when compared to a digital SLR system for action, wildlife, sport, or macro photography. And even though it does have an aperture priority mode, the exposure compensation control is accessed via a menu, which makes it less accessible than on most pro cameras.
Also vexing is that Leica's most expensive digital cameras - the M8 and the DMR back - can't use the new high-capacity, 8 GB SDHC memory cards, while their less expensive Leica Digilux 3 and DLUX 3 cameras easily recognize them.
On two occasions my Leica M8 locked up. The shutter wouldn't fire and I couldn't turn the camera off with the top panel switch. In the first instance, I was using the M8 after taking pictures outside in 15 degree Fahrenheit weather. The Leica M8 manual states that condensation, after bringing the camera inside from cold weather, can cause such difficulties. The second lockup occurred when I activated the sensor cleaning menu option but waited a moment before pressing the shutter release. The shutter release didn't open the shutter, and turning the camera off from the top panel switch didn't shut the camera off. Both times I had to remove and reinsert the battery to restart the camera.
I've found it's easy to smudge the Leica's small rangefinder windows and the rear LCD screen with skin oils that are difficult to clean with a dry lens cloth. The smudges reduce the brightness and clarity of the viewfinder and LCD so it's wise to consider plastic screen protectors for these windows. I like the ones made by the ScreenPatronus company.
Other limitations include the M8's lack of image stabilization, the slow two frames-per-second burst mode, the bulky battery charger that takes up extra space in my camera bag, and the limitations of the Leica-M lens collection: no zooms, only one macro, and no telephoto lens longer than 90mm. While the Leica M8 is one of the sturdiest cameras I own, it does not have the dust and weather seals enjoyed by my similarly priced Canon EOS-1D Mark II ($4,200 when purchased), so I have to protect it from water, rain, and excessive dust, particularly when changing lenses.
Unfortunately, I found it tricky to get help from Leica. The Leica USA staff in New Jersey was extremely responsive by e-mail. However, many technical questions about the M8 had to be forwarded to Germany and the German Leica office wasn't as helpful. In the end, I found I got the quickest answers from knowledgeable Leica owners on the Leica-users.com Internet forum.
I did most of my shooting using the M8's Adobe RAW DNG format option, processing the RAW images with the excellent, included Capture One LE software. Image sharpness and resolution are outstanding with the finest image detail captured in daylight or with flash. Highlights and gradients are resolved smoothly, with high contrast and deep color saturation. Just as important, the M8 does not produce purple fringing. For a good example of the M8's excellent image quality, take a look at the detail in the wide-angle photo of the walls of Florence's Duomo (picture of the Duomo or the detail in the wide angle view of Las Vegas' airport baggage claim area.)
The M8 employs a built-in noise suppression system to minimize digital noise generated during long exposures. To remove noise, the M8 takes a second, black picture after any exposure longer than two seconds. The noise pattern in the second image is subtracted from the actual image, canceling out the digital snow. Of course, this means there's a delay while the system conducts the noise reduction processing. The long-exposure noise reduction system is quite good at ISO 1250 and below.
Black Cloth - Magenta/Eggplant Cast
Lights at Night - Ghosting and Blooming
What about the imaging glitches? I had difficulty producing them reliably. Pictures of black cloth appeared to have a magenta or eggplant cast (see image of black cloth with white balance cards and the black dresses on mannequins). And high ISO photos of bright floodlights at night showed some ghosting and blooming (see the photo of the lights at night). However, brightly colored neon signs, such as the huge guitar atop the Las Vegas Hard Rock Café, showed no problems (see image of neon guitar over Hard Rock Café). Because most of my photographs are not of black dresses, single light bulbs in the distance at night, or synthetic fabrics, the magenta cast isn't a problem for me. Even so, I've found that B+W IR-CUT filters eliminate this magenta cast to black synthetic fabrics.
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.
I love the Leica M8's high resolution, saturated, colorful images. I also love its portability, and the bright, sharp viewfinder. While I'm considering sending my M8 to the Leica factory to correct the known image quality issues, I'm not as concerned as others have been. The M8 has become my favorite travel camera for trade shows, street photography, portraits, and landscapes. I strongly prefer it to other small digital cameras with interchangeable lenses because the M8 is less obtrusive, takes better photos, has a sophisticated flash exposure system, a wider ISO range, sophisticated noise reduction, faster shutter speeds, a faster flash sync speed, and a brighter, more accurate viewfinder. And there's also the simple, intuitive purity of the Leica rangefinder experience.
Who Should Buy The Leica M8
The Leica M8 will appeal to those who value high quality images, portability, ruggedness, the Leica marque, and the camera's ability to provide a digital platform for Leica's M lens system. The M8 will please travel, wedding, and candid photographers, as well as photojournalists who can take advantage of its unobtrusive nature and fast handling. However, the M8 will not work well for sports and wildlife photographers who need real telephoto lenses to get them close to the action, or photographers who love to make macro shots of insects and flowers.
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Contents of the Leica M8.
Leica M8 Rangefinder Digital Camera
Leica Historical Society Application Form
Battery Charger 100-240V with car and three mains plug adapters (USA, UK, EURO)
Body Cap for M bayonet Mount
AV & USB Cables
Carrying Strap with Anti-slip Guard
Software CD with User Manual as PDF, Remote Control Software LEICA DIGITAL CAPTURE 1.0
CD ROM with Capture One-LE from Phase One Software
Strengths: Great build quality
Can use most Leica lenses
Forces you to think about the picture being taken.
Pleasure to use in the field
Great control placement
Simple but effect menu structure
1.3 form factor
Snapshot mode that is virtually useless in practice
No recent firmware updates since 2.005 (this needs a firmware update)
I have Leica M cameras (M5, M6ttl, and M7) that were sitting in my closet unused since I had decided to make the switch to digital. Recently, I was debating which camera to upgrade to. Was it to be the new Nikon D7000 (but I have the D300) or the Canon 5dMarkII. In reviewing this decision, I looked back on my recent experiences with digital photography and found myself feeling that I was no longer a photographer but a point-and-shoot picture taker (many of the critical decisions had been taken out of my hands). Consequently, I decided to buy a warranted used Mint chrome Leica M8.2 from Tamarkin. In the past two weeks, I have taken a number of shots ranging from a butterfly exhibit in Grand Rapids to snow scenery in Flint. I have noticed that the camera has forced me to think differently about photography and the results show in the pictures. I find that I take fewer but there are a higher percentage of good shows.
The M8.2 forces the photographer to become more aware of what they want from he picture. It is the essence of focus -- it only does digital pictures. It does not do video; it does not do in camera effects; it has no settings for scenery or night time photography. It forces the photographer to think.
Overall, the camer is very well-built. It is solid. It is also beautiful. It uses nearly lens that Leica has made for the m mount. Being a rangefinder, it requires a different approach to photography. It is not as fast (the bottleneck is no longer the camera but the photographer). It is one of the purest expressions of minimalism that I have ever seen in a camera. There is very little excess in this camera in terms of features and menus. Nearly every menu is only two levels deep.
In the field, it is silent (but not as silent as the M7). My camera has a slight tendency to overexpose (which required me to change the settings). It is also small and light weight. It is also a pleasure to use. This is a hard trait to quantitatively assess but it just feels right in the hands. Controls are where they should be and everything makes senses.
There are some problems with the camera (aside from the need to use IR filters). The camera offers a snapshot mode that, while theoretically attractive, has been very poorly implemented. For example, once you pick S, you are given a fixed set of options -- one of which is that the camera will only store JPG images. The jpg images are okay -- nothing great. The real power of the camera lies in its RAW files which are phenomenal. Yet, I cannot change the settings for S so that I can store both jpg and raw -- this does not make sense.
The 1.3 factor also does not help. For the price, it would have been nice if this sensor was a full frame.
Finally, it would be nice if Leica offered a firmware update whereby:
1. you could see the battery life on the LCD screen.
2. you could set the lenses manually rather than relying on the six bit coding system used.
Strengths: M camera
Fun to use
Did I say it's an M camera!?
It's a Leica
Weaknesses: IR filter issue - solvable
Coding issue - solvable
Change in feel from film M
You're all probably are aware of this cameras week points and the controversies surrounding it. A digital Leica M camera in itself is a controversy!
As an avid M6 user who prints and develops his own B&W and C41 film, choosing to try the M8 seemed counter intuitive in some ways. However finding time in my life to do things the old fashion way has become a problem. I convinced myself early on that there was no point in thinking about digital unless it was the M8. Leica M series cameras changed me as a photographer, I wasn't about to throw that away.
The camera has a few things that underwhelmed me minutes out of the box. The mode switch is of poor quality and makes the camera seem cheap and poorly built. How Leica thought this was not worth a redesign I don't know. The camera, slightly bigger than a film M seems strangely hollow feeling. This camera is not as solid as a film M, but over all it is as well built. I guess it's just not as dense with metal.
The IR filter issue isn't an issue anymore, do yourself a favor and decide it won't be an issue before you buy. Get the filters and get over it. Lens coding of old Leica lenses and third party lenses is a must in my book. I don't want weird colour shifts in the corner of my pics when using IR filters. Price in the Coder kit before you buy, another issue solved.
So was that worth all the effort? Oh, yes, it, certainly, was. It's weird the feeling of using an M camera but having the flexibility of digital. For a start you don't keep looking at the LCD, because your brain is telling you it's an M. You take shots you wouldn't normally, but all the time it feels like your film M.. only you can see the pictures when you get home! The cameras features, Aperture priority etc, auto WB, Auto ISO.. these things take the M experience to a whole new level. This camera is a hell of a lot of fun! The shutter sounds different, a little hollow, but after a day or two I actually really like it. It's the sound of me having a good time and it's not intrusive.
So after all this fun what are the pictures like? Sharp, film like, beautiful, I really thought my fun first outing was going to end in mediocrity because after all this is digital right.. wrong.. well, it is digital but it's the most film like digital I've seen! The images are so sharp, so rich, so flexible, it really has its own quality. In short this thing delivers the goods and is a joy to use to boot, dare I say it even more so than a film M, just because of the flexibility.
I'm over the moon with this camera, it feels pro, I know pro's use it, and what it delivers is so pro!! Forget the megapixel count, it's more than enough.
Buy this M. Stop wasting smaller amounts of money on lesser cameras. This camera is an M for life... do I sound in love... I am.. that's not happened since I got my M6 and I've had cameras of every format since then.. always kept the M6. Now I can go out, come back and be satisfied and get on with other things.
It's weird but some how all this cameras little qwerks make it even more lovable, even more personal somehow.. it has bags of character and it will make you happy. Though at first you may find some conflict.. but in my book, that's how all the best friendships begin.
Weaknesses: Low light capabilities, poorly laid out controls, expensive, no fast wide angle lenses, short buffer
I've spent most of the past year photographing in Iraq with an M8. I'm a long-time Leica user but I'm not a fan of the M8. It has locked up on me repeatedly and has terrible low-light capability. If you've got money to burn and are shooting in daylight, and don't mind RAW processing, this camera could be for you. If you're a working photojournalist, stay away from it.
Weaknesses: it accepts only 2 G memory cards
digital wallets like Epson cant read the leica's raw
i was a canon man for about 5 years and before that i used a nikon. a few months ago i decided to buy the leica M8 fo 2 reasons: 1) i was tierd of carrying all this weight 2) i loved the results of the leica.
the leica M8 is certainley not a camera for those who want easy life ,everything is manuel including the focus and the wB setting but once you see the results there is no way back to canon/nikon. the quality and sharpness of the pictures is really amazing
i found that adding the uv/iR filter has'nt affected the quality and the great colours. The shutter is a bit noisy and the buttery does not last as long as it does on a canon, but what are these all in cmparison to the fantastic quality.
what can i say i fell in love with this camera and at list for me it is bye bye canon