Leica M8 Review
Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.
As you can see from the sample set below the M8's color response could be described as conservative, if you prefer a bit more punch you can always use the higher settings. I preferred the green response using ECI RGB however it turned the yellow patch slightly green.
|Leica M8||Compare to:|
|sRGB||Adobe RGB||ECI RGB||Saturation-1|
Artificial light White Balance
The M8's automatic white balance performed pretty poorly. In incandescent light we got the 'golden glow' of too much red and not enough blue (although the preset was closer) and in fluorescent light we couldn't get the balance anywhere near with auto or the preset. Our advice therefore would be to take a manual preset under artificial light if you have to shoot JPEG or better still, just shoot RAW.
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red: 5.6%, Blue: -11.1%, Average
|Incandescent - Incandescent preset WB
Red: -3.6%, Blue: 0.6%, Good
|Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red: -8.9%, Blue: -7.3%, Average
|Fluorescent - Fluorescent preset WB
Red: -9.0%, Blue: 2.0%, Average
Long Exposure noise reduction / Night shots
Typically we do one shot with dark frame subtraction noise reduction on and one with it off, unfortunately the M8 doesn't allow you to disable this feature and for long exposures always takes a dark frame immediately after the main shot. With this in mind we instead did a 30 and 60 second exposure to see how effective this noise reduction was, in short very effective giving good results even up to 60 seconds. The M8 has a very usable Bulb mode, press the shutter release to open the shutter, softly tap it again to close.
|30 seconds||60 seconds|
|ISO 160, 30 sec, F11||ISO 160, 60 sec, F16|
Infrared / Ultraviolet pollution
Fairly early in our testing of the M8 (October 2006) we noticed the by now fairly well publicized IR/UV sensitivity issue. My first exposure to this was a shot of my son in his purple buggy, except in real life the buggy wasn't purple it was dark gray. At first I had no idea what I was seeing just that the M8 had a color cast issue (with man-made fabrics) in certain light, after a while it became obvious that this was being caused by Infrared light (as it was strongest in bright daylight or direct incandescent light).
Essentially the M8's sensor (because of the thinness of the glass layer over the sensor) is more sensitivity to IR/UV light than most other cameras, Leica's solution to this (publicized here) was to provide screw-on UV/IR lens filters for M series lenses, two free with every M8. Despite the slightly clunky solution this approach does actually work and once in place you pretty much forget about the 'issue'.
To demonstrate the difference between the M8 with and without this filter and also versus other cameras we created a simple test scene lit by 800W tungsten lamps (which of course produce lots of Infrared). Sufficient to say that if you value color you will want to use a filter.
|Leica M8, no UV/IR filter||Leica M8, with UV/IR filter|
|Canon EOS 5D||Fujifilm S5 Pro|
Note: Don't worry too much about the overall white balance of these samples, they were taken with each cameras "incandescent" white balance preset, we're really just interested in the difference between the color of the man-made fabric and the 'true black' of the lens bodies and Gretag chart.
Real world samples
In both of the samples below you can see a dark magenta color cast on fabrics which were in actual fact black. These shots were taken with an early pre-production M8 with no IR/UV filter.
Lens falloff / corner vignetting
As mentioned in the introduction to this review Leica has implemented several different systems to reduce the effect of lens falloff / corner vignetting on wide angle lenses. In addition to offset microlenses and a smaller than full-frame sensor Leica has a six-bit lens coding system which is used to identify the lens and apply some software based vignetting correction (in JPEG mode at least). Falloff / vignetting mostly affects wide angle lenses, as you can see below with lens detection turned off there is approximately 25% falloff using the Elmarit-M 21 mm at F2.8, switching lens detection on reduces this to 12%.
|Lens detection off||Lens detection on|
Overall Image Quality / Specifics
In everyday use the M8 often delivers images which make you go 'wow', not for any specific technical reason but simply because the combination of super high quality, fast large aperture prime lenses and the creative control manual focus forces upon you often deliver images which are simply more interesting than you would have taken with an SLR. I took lots of examples of shots with very crisp yet shallow depth of field and lovely soft bokeh background. Color was on the whole good, if a little conservative with a certain requirement to check white balance before taking too many shots, dynamic range and tone response were as good as any pro level SLR (except for the Fujifilm S5 Pro) and noise at higher sensitivities was also nothing to concern us.
JPEG engine quality
My biggest disappointment was with the M8's own JPEG engine which really didn't deliver the optimum image quality from the data captured. The difference between in-camera JPEG and developed RAW is a measure of the quality of the camera's JPEG engine, small differences always exist but on a camera at this level we simply expected much better results than we got. We would of course expect many M8 owners to shoot RAW, however that's no excuse for poor JPEG's.
The main issues here are; 45 degree jagged artifacts on high contrast angled detail (such as the numbers and fingers of the watch below), visible moire on areas of detail (also shows up as blue / yellow fringing on the edges of highlights), blurring of detail above around 2200 LPH (a software based anti-alias filter?) and the slightly 'video camera' appearance of clipped highlights (no soft roll-off).
|JPEG||RAW (converted using Adobe Camera RAW)|
|Louvre Museum pyramid by Didier Quan|
|Oka Frozen Leaf 2002 DP by MarioSS|
from The Dead Leaves of Winter