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Leica M8 Review

The first Leica rangefinder body with a bayonet interchangeable lens mount was shown in 1954 at Photokina (or ‘Foto Kina’), marking the beginning of a renowned line of cameras and lenses, the last of which, the M7, is one of the few 35 mm rangefinder cameras currently in production.

Leica has resisted the need to deviate from the fundamentally basic design created by the original M3 for over half a century (the introduction of an electronically-controlled shutter allowing aperture-priority automatic exposure didn’t come until 2002).

With an average of 10 years between significant improvements and many original M3s still in constant use, the M platform is considered by its legion of supporters to be the purest photographic tool available and a refreshing alternative to the plethora of plastic feature-laden versions that dominate the market today.

Some of the 20th century’s most celebrated photographers and iconic photographs were captured using Leica M cameras, and their acquisition has always been motivated as much by passion as logic. As a result, it should come as no surprise that when Leica finally decided it was time to bring the M into the digital age, they did not feel any urgency to get started despite having talked about it for at least five years.

Leica M8 Design

A few weeks before the official announcement, a picture of the M8 surfaced online. I found it hilarious to read a remark on a Leica forum that said the picture was fake since there was no way Leica could maintain the design so basic and clean. That photo is legit, and Leica has kept the same minimalistic style that makes them seem just as rare as they are.

The typical rectangular dimensions (about 5:3) and the almost-central lens mount give no hints that this is a digital camera from the front.

The huge viewfinder window, the bright line illumination window, and the distance meter viewing window are located above this. There are only a few buttons and knobs on the rear, with the huge 2.5″ LCD screen in the center and the menu, control dial, and direction buttons to the right. There is no unnecessary fluff or redundant safeguards, simply a straightforward, well-thought-out layout.

The camera’s primary power/drive mode switch, shutter release, and shutter speed dial are located on the top of the device, which is not seen here. The M8’s metal blade shutter is electronically controlled, thus there is no need for a wind lever (which on a film M series both winds the film and primes the shutter).

Leica M8 Colour

Availability in two hues Chrome with black chrome. The black chrome has tough paint that doesn’t wear off quickly. But when it does, the result is a chic garment with an industrial aesthetic.

If I had used a black paint M as I used my M8, I would’ve worn out all the paint. This black chrome is amazing. Choose an M8.2 black paint if you want to see the brass below. Compared to black chrome, black paint fades distinctly over time. When I see my friend Collin’s M8.2 painted black, I can’t help but stare in awe. They say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Leica M8 Sensor

Leica couldn’t fit a full-frame sensor inside the M8’s body without making significant design compromises. In other words, the M8 has an APS-H sensor with a crop factor of 1.3x. The sensor has a high resolution of 10.3 megapixels. Both in 2006 and now, there is sufficient supply. The A3 prints I made turned out beautifully.

A decreased file size is the result of reducing the resolution. A 32GB memory card will keep you going for a few days at least. You won’t have any performance issues while using older MacBooks or iPads to read or edit the files.

Also, the M8 sensor is a CCD device created by Eastman Kodak. A CCD sensor’s image quality is distinct from that of a CMOS sensor. There are many devotees of an aging technology known as CCD.

When firing the M8, some people claim it’s like having an endless supply of Kodachrome to blast through. Those hues remind me of film colors. The M8’s monochromatic performance, however, is on par with that of the M9. Some could say the M8 B&Ws are superior to the M9 monochromes.

Due to the absence of the AA filter, the images are noticeably crisper. Leica’s sensor lacks an infrared cut filter, too. As a result, you may decorate your lens with a stylish IR cut filter. I assure you, the IR cut filter will make your lens seem badass. When the M8 was sold, it came with two IR cut filters.

Leica M8 Controls

The M8’s top-mounted controls are standard, uncomplicated, and straightforward. The first is the primary switch, which activates the camera and lets you choose between a single shot, continuous shooting (two frames per second), and the self-timer. This surrounds the three-position shutter release button (1. prime exposure, 2. exposure lock, 3. shutter release) (1. prime exposure, 2. exposure lock, 3. shutter release).

To the left of this is the shutter speed dial, which, when set to “A,” allows the camera to choose the shutter speed automatically (in aperture priority), or which, when turned, allows the photographer to choose a shutter speed between 4 seconds and 1/8000 second in 1/2 EV increments (there is a step between those printed on the dial).

As one might expect from a camera that costs as much as a small island, the image quality is exceptional. Simply shooting in RAW and converting the files on your computer will yield the best results, since the JPG mode produces pictures that are washed out and significantly less vibrant.

We put it through its paces using a 35mm f1.4 lens, which is known for producing beautiful bokeh (the smooth out-of-focus portions of a shot) and is a hallmark of Leica lenses. All in all, there is nothing excessively invasive in the 21mm to 90mm range.

The menus are all extremely straightforward to traverse, all the controls are sensibly located, and – this is the nicest touch for veteran Leica users – the base plate, which was detachable on vintage Leicas to load the film roll, is removable on the M8 to provide access to the battery and memory card slot.

Leica M8 Specs

TypeCompact digital viewfinder system camera for professional use with Leica M lenses.  Microprocessor-controlled metal blade slot shutter.
Body materialEnclosed all-metal body of highly stable magnesium alloy for professional use over many years.  Black synthetic leather coating. Top panel and bottom cover are milled from solid brass and are silver or black chromium plated.
Sensor• 27 x 18 mm CCD sensor (Kodak KAF-10500)
• 10.3 million effective pixels
• 11.2 million total pixels
• 6.8 x 6.8 µm pixel pitch
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Offset microlenses near frame corners
• No anti-alias filter (low pass filter)
• 1.33x FOV crop
Image sizes• 3936 x 2630
• 2952 x 1972
• 1968 x 1315
• 1312 x 876
File formats• DNG (RAW)
• JPEG (Fine / Basic)
Lens mount• Leica M bayonet
• Identification of 6-bit coded lenses
Lens system• Current 6-bit coded Leica M lenses of 16 – 90 mm focal length
• All Leica M lenses of 21 – 90 mm focal lengths produced since 1954
• 135 mm lens can be used but precise framing will be difficult
Lens coding• 6-bit lens coding system (detection can be disabled)
• Reduction of edge shadowing
• Identification of lens (recorded in JPEG EXIF / DNG)
• Auto slow-sync function in aperture priority mode
Incompatible lenses• Hologon 15 mm F8
• Summicron 50 mm F2 with close focusing
• Elmar 90 mm F4 with collapsible tube
• Lenses with retractable tubes can only be used with their tubes extended otherwise you risk damaging the camera
Focusing• Manual focus via lens ring
• Superimposed focusing system via viewfinder
Exposure modes• Heavily center-biased TTL exposure metering with preset aperture
• Light reflected from white strip in center of metal blade slot shutter
• Silicon photodiode with collection lens
• Range: 0 to 20 EV
Exposure compen.• +/- 3.0 EV
• 1/3 EV steps
Sensitivity• ISO 160
• ISO 320
• ISO 640
• ISO 1250
• ISO 2500
ShutterMicroprocessor-controlled metal blade slot shutter with vertical action
Shutter actionShutter activation optimised for minimum noise development. Electric motor drive with friction wheel in the first speed build-up stage and a cam disc for homogeneous torque throughout the activation process.
Shutter speed• In aperture priority mode steplessly adjustable from 32 to 1/8000 sec
• Manually selectable from 4 to 1/8000 sec in 1/2 EV steps
• Bulb
Shutter dial (for manual selection)• “Wrong way” shutter dial (same as M6 TTL / M7)
• Auto shutter speed position
• Bulb position
• 8 – 1/8000 sec in 1/2 EV steps
• 1/250 sec indicated as flash sync
Shutter release button• Three position soft-touch button
    1. Initiate metering
    2. Lock metered exposure
    3. Shutter release
ApertureSelected on lens
White balance• Auto
• Six presets
    o Tungsten
    o Fluorescent
    o Daylight
    o Flash
    o Cloudy
    o Shadow
• Manual preset
• Kelvin color temperature (2000 – 13100 K)
• Preset white balance (immediate or from photo)
Color space• sRGB
• Adobe RGB
Image parameters• Sharpening (5): Off, Low, Standard, Medium High, High
• Saturation (6): Low, Medium Low, Standard, Medium High, High, B&W
• Contrast (5): Low, Medium Low, Standard, Medium High, High
User profilesThree available
Viewfinder type• Large bright-line frame viewfinder with automatic parallax compensation
• Viewfinder optics with reduced sensitivity to scattered light and optimum visibility of the bright-line frame in all lighting situations
Viewfinder specification• Eyepiece matched to -0.5dpt, correction lenses form -3 to +3dpt available
• Enlargement: 0.68x for all lenses
Viewfinder bright-line frames• Automatically matched for the lens used
    o 24 and 35 mm
    o 28 and 90 mm
    o 50 and 75 mm
• Automatic parallax correction
Size basis range finderCombinationof split and superimposed image range finder shown as a bright field in the centre of the viewfinder image.  Effective measurement basis 47.1 mm (mechanical measurement basis 69.25mm x viewfinder enlargement 0.68 x).
Viewfinder information• LED symbol for flash status
• Four-digit LED display with dots above and below
• Brightness automatically adjusted depending on ambient brightness
• Memory capacity warning when the SD card is full
• LED light balance with two triangular and one circular LED for manual exp
• Display of: underexposure by at least one aperture stop; underexposure by 1/2 aperture stop; correct exposure; overexposure by 1/2 aperture stop; overexposure by at least one aperture stop
LCD monitor• 2.5″ TFT LCD
• 230,000 pixel TFT
Flash control• Leica M-TTL flash compatible
• Short calibration pre-flash immediately before main exposure
• Connection: M-TTL guide number control with pre-flash
• Flash sync: 1/250 sec
• Manual: Bulb to 1/250 sec
• Auto slow sync: 1/focal length in seconds (only 6-bit coded lenses)
• Choice of long flash sync times up to 1/8 sec for balanced flash in aperture priority mode
• Sync: 1st or 2nd shutter point (front / rear sync)
• Compensation: +/- 3.0 EV in 1/3 EV steps
Shooting modes• Single picture (one shutter button depression, one picture)
• Continuous (2 frames per second up to 10 frames)
• Self-timer (2 or 12 second delay)
Play functions• Image (simple)
• Image with histogram and information
    o Histogram: standard / RGB
    o Clipping indication: on / off
    o Exposure information
    o Can magnify and browse
• Image magnify up to 1:1 (can browse)
• Thumbnail (4 or 9 image index)
• Page by page (9 image index)
• Protect
• Delete
Delete function• Single image
• All images
Protect / Unprotect function• Single image
• All images
Set quick access menu• User profile
• ISO sensitivity
• Exposure compensation
• White Balance
• Image quality (‘compression’)
• Image size (‘resolution’)
Languages• English
• German
• French
• Spanish
• Italian
• Japanese
• Chinese
Storage• Secure Digital / Secure Digital HC
• FAT / FAT32
ConnectivityUSB 2.0 Hi-Speed (Mini-B connector)
Provided software• Capture One LE
• Leica Digital Capture
Power• Lithium-Ion battery pack (3.7 V, 1900 mAh)
• Charger included (also attaches to car socket)
Dimensions139 x 80 x 37 mm (5.5 x 3.1 x 1.5 in)
Weight (no battery)545 g (1.2 lb)
Weight (inc. batt)591 g (1.3 lb)
Box contentsM8 camera (10702 silver or 10701 black), anti-slip carrying strap (14 312), camera cover for M bayonet (14 195), lithium-ion rechargeable battery (14 464), battery charger incl. car socket adaptor and 3 mains plug adapters (Euro, UK, USA) (14 463), USB connection cable, user manual, software DVD Capture One LE, software CD with LEICA DIGITAL CAPTURE and user manuals in all languages (PDF); printed user manual for LEICA M8; warranty card for LEICA M8

Leica M8 Final Verdict

For me, the M8 was my first contact with a rangefinder camera, and I was dubious that there was still a need for a camera so heavily dependent on manual controls in an increasingly mechanized industry.

Once you learn how to use one, you’ll understand why rangefinders like the M8 remain so popular: they help you reconnect with your subject, immerse you in the scene (thanks to a large viewfinder and the lack of a mirror blackout), and compel you to make the kind of conscious decisions about focus and depth of field that is “lost in the half-press” for most digital SLR photographers.

Leica M8 Pros & Cons

Good For
  • The hand-built body speaks for itself, with superb quality and finish, the best in the business
  • Years of heritage brought into the digital age without compromising Leica’s core values
  • Totally new body built from the ground up to be a digital rangefinder
Need Improvements
  • Disappointing in-camera JPEG engine delivers sub-par results (jagged artifacts, moire, lower
  • the magenta color cast on man-made fabrics
  • resolution) especially when you see what’s available from RAW
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