Leica M8 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Hand-built body speaks for itself, superb quality and finish, the best in the business
- Totally new body built from the ground up to be a digital rangefinder
- Years of heritage brought into the digital age without compromising Leica core values
- Range of excellent (if amazingly expensive, and of course manual focus) lenses
- Weighty body and fewer moving parts means slower hand-held shutter speeds *
- Quiet and compact compared to a DSLR, smaller lenses (for equivalent focal lengths) *
- Very short shutter lag, much more direct connection to the scene and the 'moment' *
- Good general performance metrics (on to off time, review times etc.)
- Rangefinder advantages (and disadvantages) including no black-out, brighter, much larger view *
- Extremely sharp RAW capture thanks to lack of anti-alias filter
- Fairly low noise across the sensitivity range, maintains detail at higher sensitivities
- Good dynamic range at base sensitivity; about eight and a half stops
- About a third more sensitive than indicated (ISO 200 - 3200)
- Fast access to aperture and shutter speed selection, quick switch from aperture priority
- Large, high resolution LCD monitor if requiring a little 'boost' of brightness outdoors
- Basic (if still fairly effective) metering system when compared to DSLR's
- Faster maximum shutter speed and flash sync (compared to previous M series)
- Soft-touch self-timer release and simple double-press Bulb mode
- Clean, simple button ergonomics and easy to understand menu system
- International battery charger including car lighter socket connector
- Included tethered shooting using Leica Digital Capture software
- RAW images interpolate very well to much larger sizes
Conclusion - Cons
- Infrared / Ultraviolet sensitivity means screw-on filters are required for all lenses in order to avoid
the magenta color cast on man-made fabrics
- Disappointing in-camera JPEG engine delivers sub-par results (jagged artifacts, moire, lower
resolution) especially when you see what's available from RAW
- Really need to shoot RAW to realize the potential of the camera
- Rangefinder disadvantages: you don't look through the lens, no depth of field preview, framelines indicate frame size not viewfinder view, no auto focus, virtually no telephoto lenses (beyond ~135 mm, 90 mm a sensible maximum), accessory viewfinder required for certain lenses *
- Slightly dull (low saturation) color response by default (easy to adjust)
- Poor automatic white balance in artificial light
- No communciation contact between the lens and body means aperture isn't recorded
- Sensor just as prone to dust spots as any other 'unprotected' sensor
- You need to have your M lenses six-bit coded for the optimum image quality
- You really have to want it, $4800 for the body and $1600 for a 50 mm lens
* Many of these 'pros and cons' are listed for those unfamiliar with rangefinders, many M8 buyers will already be aware of these and won't see them as significant disadvantages
When I first got my hands on the M8 I have to admit it was my first experience of a rangefinder camera, I was also skeptical that there was still a place for such a significantly manually controlled camera in such an automatic world where every new camera removes one more layer of control from the photographer. And yet there we have the exact reason why the M8 and rangefinders continue to succeed (once you discover them), they re-connect you to your subject, they draw you into the scene (big viewfinder, no mirror black-out) and they force you to make decisions about focus and depth of field which to most digital SLR users are 'lost in the half-press'.
There are lots of advantages to the rangefinder design, and obviously lots of disadvantages. I personally didn't think I'd last more than a few days without auto-focus or without any way to preview the depth of field or without lenses which go much beyond 90 mm but you soon realize that it's just a different way of taking photographs and that when you actually use a rangefinder you don't really see these things as disadvantages (just 'features').
Thankfully Leica made the great decision not to have an anti-alias filter on the M8, this means that the sensor can capture every last ounce of detail from those ultra sharp lenses, and as long as you're shooting RAW you'll be able to see that very clearly in the images. As I described earlier in this review the combination of very sharp detail and beautifully soft bokeh (from the quality lens) mean images with that distinctive 'Leica look', you begin to shoot more and more with the lens wide open in order to create such a feel.
With every good decision it seems there comes a questionable one, which brings us nicely to the two main bug-bears with the M8; the lack of a built-in IR/UV filter and the built-in image processor. Having spoken to Leica in detail about the IR/UV issue I now understand why they couldn't have avoided it with current technology, what was perhaps a 'dropped ball' was not recognizing how quickly early testers of the camera would pick up on it and how that then becomes 'an issue'. True to form however Leica reacted fairly quickly with new firmware and free lens filters which effectively solve this problem.
Next we'll turn to the image processor, in all honesty I'm mostly disappointed because of the wide difference between the quality of the output image (at a pixel level) between JPEG's created in-camera and RAW converted using either Capture One or Adobe Camera RAW (or pretty much any other third party converter). The image processor (specifically the demosaicing, sharpening and low pass algorithms) exhibit some 'roughness' which we wouldn't expect to see in 2007, there must be plenty of off-the-shelf engines which can do a better job. One other caveat is that because the M8 doesn't have a physical anti-alias filter (low pass filter) this is one additional step required (and by our resolution chart results you can see there's just too much blurring which loses too much detail). So, this means that if you're only shooting JPEG you're not really getting the absolute best from the camera (and really if you've paid $6000+ for the camera+lens in your hand you really will want the best output), hence you need either shoot RAW+JPEG or probably better still, just RAW.
So what's the bottom line? I have to admit that I've been turned, from a skeptic to a believer, certainly the M8 isn't a camera everyone is going to afford, but a rangefinder is certainly something any 'serious' photographer should try at some point in their life. It's changed the way I shoot, I've found myself going back to manual focus more even when I use DSLR's and being more selective about lenses and depth of field, and more creative in my framing. My advice on the M8 would be, if you can afford to then get one, be aware of its limitations, shoot RAW and rediscover 'capturing moments'.
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||9.0|
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Specifications
- 3 Body & Design
- 4 Body & Design
- 5 Body & Design
- 6 Operation & Controls
- 7 Displays
- 8 Menus
- 9 Timings & Sizes
- 10 Features
- 11 Features
- 12 Software
- 13 Photographic tests
- 14 Photographic tests
- 15 Photographic tests
- 16 Compared to...
- 17 Compared to...
- 18 Compared to...
- 19 Compared to...
- 20 Compared to...
- 21 Conclusion
- 22 Samples