Leica M8  Review – Like Shooting an Unending Roll of Kodachrome

Leica M8  Review – Like Shooting an Unending Roll of Kodachrome

1800 1012 Nick Clayton

Debuting in 2006, the Leica M8 is now a teenager. But since digital technology ages faster than dog years it’s probably more accurate to call it a senior citizen. Thankfully, as with all Leica M’s, the Leica M8 is a solid, classically styled, well-engineered camera that is built to last (or at least well enough to warrant repairing).

Despite being Leica’s first digital M, the M8 is eclipsed by its successor, the M9  – the world’s first full-frame digital rangefinder. The M9 may have a bigger sensor, but it’s also got a sensor that’s prone to corrosion. Years after its release, Leica officially acknowledged the problem and offered a free repair or optional camera trade-in program for all affected cameras. This design failure was not without precedent. Just as it set the mold for the M9 as a camera, the M8 also provided a trial run for a design debacle.

The Infrared Issue

Cameras predictably depreciate with time, but in the case of the M8, its decline is mainly attributable to one design decision. Developers erred on the side of sharpness by putting less filtering in front of the sensor, and while this contributed to the M8 being able to punch way above its weight in terms of resolution, it also left images vulnerable to infrared light pollution. The effect is most pronounced in dark fabrics and green foliage, which show up with a light purple and unnatural yellow-brown cast, respectively. 

Leica Camera AG did not issue a recall. Instead they offered a band-aid solution of providing all M8 owners with two free IR/UV screw-on lens filters and rushed the release of the M8.2 (in lieu of an M8-P, presumably). 

Ten years on, I was actually able to take advantage of the offer despite being a secondary owner who paid $0 to a Leica dealer. I received two Leica branded filters in the mail by providing little more than my contact information and the camera’s serial number.

The photography community still views the Leica M8 with infrared-tinted glasses. Ultimately, your decision to purchase or not depends on whether or not you think the inconvenience of affixing a free, top quality lens filter is worth paying thousands of dollars less for a Leica rangefinder. In all honesty, I’ve been very happy with mine despite the occasional filter-induced lens flare. 

Cost & Value

Leica M bodies tend to bottom out in price a few years after their release and hold their value thereafter. That makes a second-hand purchase a pretty safe place to park your money for a while. This, of course, assumes you are liquid enough in the first place. And that is what makes the M8 so enticing – it is the “affordable” digital Leica M. At the time of this writing, a decent example of this beautiful block of German engineering can be easily found on eBay for under $2,000 USD. And it’s not rare to find a few under $1,600.

Understandably, some will balk at a four figure price tag attached to a fourteen year old, manual focus, 10 megapixel, 2500 maximum ISO camera with a CCD sensor, no live view, and a faulty design. Those people have a point, but they’re also missing another; the user experience and final product are what truly matters, and in both cases the M8 delivers. 

Image Quality

DNG files from the M8’s 10MP APS-H (2/3rds full-frame, 1.33x crop factor) CCD sensor are sharp and detailed. There is a unique digital ‘grain’ to this sensor that is pleasantly reminiscent of film.

Apparently the output from the M8 was modeled on Kodachrome slide film. Thorsten Overgaard has written about this and claims to have heard it directly from Stefan Daniel, Leica Camera’s division head of product management, during a briefing at the annual meeting of the LHSA in 2010. Whether this applies to the raw or jpeg output is unclear, but I find the comparison compelling. I tend to use the M8 as if it is loaded with a roll of 160 ISO slide film, and that, I believe, is the key to understanding this camera.

Imagine that the Leica M8 is a less expensive Leica M7 with an unending roll of Kodachrome with a built-in digital scanner. The removable bottom plate will help with this illusion. This may not be as much of a stretch as you think, as the M8 is a bridge between film and digital imaging. Being both modern and antiquated makes the M8 somewhat timeless, and in a market where obsolescence is the rule, any relevance this 14 year old camera enjoys today has to have something to do with quality.

Even the sensor’s dynamic range is just a few stops more than a typical slide film, providing a precedent for how to expose for best results (i.e. expose for highlights). 

As with film, you can push exposure in-camera (change ISO setting), or in post-processing (Lightroom). I recommend leaving the camera at base ISO in all but the lowest light. If you prefer a more mid-tone exposure, there is plenty of detail in the shadows waiting to be revealed, and an image exposed this way will still have contrast and dynamic range when pushed. Conversely, there is nothing waiting for you in the blown highlights of an overexposed raw file but a white abyss. Beware.

ISO Performance

The Leica M8 lacks a dedicated ISO button, which is unfortunate for someone like me, who dislikes menus. Thankfully I find accessing and changing ISO mercifully simple. ISO is at the top of the ‘set’ menu, so it takes only two depressions of the ‘set’ button, a turn of the dial, and another ‘set’, and done.

The highest ISO setting on the M8 is 2500, which produces an insurmountable amount of noise, especially so in color. The only purpose I can see for this high ISO setting is if you are invoking noise for aesthetic purposes. Auto ISO is available, and we can set the Max ISO allowable (this should always be set to 640).

As a final note on ISO and low light performance, it’s important to keep in mind that for decades Leica has designed cameras to compensate for low light with faster lenses, and that film stocks had top ISOs of 3200, maybe 6400. This is why there are f/1.4 Summiluxes, and f/1.0 or f/0.95 Noctiluxes. These days there are also (much) more affordable Voigtlander or 7Artisans equivalents to mount on your M. These fast lenses do the same job on this first digital M – they bring in enough light to save us from the camera’s poor high ISO performance.

Exposure Modes

Like the film model that preceded it, the M8 offers manual and aperture priority exposure modes. In Aperture priority mode, the viewfinder displays the shutter speed with two stacked red dots. The upper dot indicates exposure lock, and the lower one I functionally ignore, but I believe indicates exposure compensation.

Conveniently, you can set the lowest allowable shutter speed in settings. There is also a ‘lens dependent’ setting option, should your lenses have 6 bit coding, but most do not. I find I can get away with as low as 1/15th handheld with my 35mm by wrapping the camera strap around my elbow.

The Leica M8’s center-weighted metering fares quite well, but tends toward overexposure in bright, high contrast settings. When using Aperture Priority you will want to dial in some compensation. I prefer to just shoot in manual, because it’s easier to turn the shutter speed dial than go into the menu. The way exposure comp is hidden away makes it an obvious afterthought, and remembering to reset it takes a level of discipline that I lack.

Manual exposure is adjusted the same way as on every Leica M; with an external shutter speed dial and an aperture ring on the lens. In this mode the viewfinder displays an LED dot indicating accurate exposure, bookended by a left arrow to indicate underexposure and a right arrow for overexposure. Coming from the viewfinders of modern cameras that display more information than a cable news feed, this is positively minimalist. Anyone familiar with a Leica M6 will feel right at home.

It is not possible to display the lens aperture in the viewfinder, as there is no CPU on M-mount lenses to transmit this information to the camera. You are given an estimated aperture setting in the photo metadata that is calculated by cross-referencing data from a light sensor on the center-front of the camera with the recorded shutter speed. This system is reliably inaccurate.

The Rangefinder Experience

Having used a full-featured Fuji XT-2 side by side with the M8, the ‘hit-rate’ in terms of focus and usable images from either camera really depends on the day, not the device. Even image resolution is comparable, despite the disparity in megapixel count. The difference in user experience, however, is striking.

Someone wiser than me said that computers may be smarter than people, but they have yet to make one that can read my mind.  AUTO doesn’t always do what I want, when I want it, and those two things are central to the act of photography. I would gladly trade 100% of the sharp moments that I didn’t want for even one of the blurry ones that I did want. That is why I tend to prefer manual control , and a camera that is designed to be controlled manually. Enter the Leica M8.

I have young children, so I do sometimes wish that I had autofocus when one of my hands is occupied by a stroller or child. Incidentally, I am working on a circus act of one-handed, waist level shooting with the M8 using zone focusing while moving the focus tab on the 35 Summicron with the tip of my index finger and using my thumb to depress the shutter. This may sound awkward, but in this position the throw of the focus tab on the 35 allows all but the closest focal distance. Notably, while operating the camera this way, I am still aware of shutter speed, aperture and focal distance while looking at the top of the camera.

Random, But Not Insignificant Thoughts

Each M8 DNG file is 10.6 MB, or approximately 1% of a gigabyte. This gives you about 100 raw files per gigabyte of storage! JPEGs exported from your editing software will be even more compact. With the sheer volume of digital files involved in practical digital photography, there is a lot to be said for efficiency, and the M8 has a very respectable quality to MB ratio, which is a non-scientific term that I just invented.

The back screen has not aged well. It is effective for checking exposure and sharpness, and little else. Save your photo viewing for your laptop or tablet.

This camera is not made for continuous shooting. The buffer can get easily overwhelmed to the point of a full camera lockup requiring not just a restart, but also a battery pull. This involves removing the bottom plate. My M8 and I have come to an understanding; I have learned to respect its limits, and it hasn’t shut down on me in years.

The Leica M8’s shutter sound is pleasant enough, but also aggressive. Discreet mode attempts to compensate for this by relegating the clunk of the shutter to the depress of the button, and the whir of the wind to the release. Both stages are loud. The tension on the shutter seems ratcheted so high that I can almost feel the camera jerk when depressing. I can’t remember ever feeling this way about the mirror slap on an SLR.

Occasionally the M8 will produce banding on the image in low light. This is subtle, unlike the dreaded translucent green stripe that sometimes appears across the image. This occurs randomly about once or twice a year, in my experience. I can’t say that I’ve ever had it ruin an important image, but it’s not possible to guarantee it won’t.

The Leica M8 is the only M to have an external shot countdown window. It only has three digits, so is now functionally useless in the era of massive SD cards. More than anything, it offers an ever-present allegory for the evolution of technology. When you combine the M8’s scant 10MB files with modern SD card capacities, you can safely assume that the only number you will ever see in this hot countdown LCD is “999.”

Far too often, the back buttons and dial (not the shutter) do not respond upon first depress. This type of feedback response is not what one expects from a luxury camera brand.

I consider an external grip of some sort essential to the ergonomics of this camera. I use a “Thumbs Up” and find that it makes the camera feel right in my hand.

Wrapping Up

I recently spent a great afternoon with the kids on the back deck on a beautiful, sunny day. The three of them playing with bubbles in high contrast lighting was a dynamic scene too good to pass up, so I grabbed the M8, set it to hyperfocal distance, exposed for the highlights using manual exposure, and played for an hour.

That got me thinking back to my first week with my Leica M8; I was so excited, but also having serious doubts as I adjusted to a new way of shooting and ‘seeing’. Now it just feels like an old friend.

Even though the M8 is considered ancient by digital standards, it has a classic look and feel. It’s mostly well designed and entirely well built, and intended to last a lifetime. It is rooted in a long and storied tradition, proudly wearing its limitations as its merits. If you want to get into the digital M system, the Leica M8 provides the best option at a very attractive price point.

Get your own Leica M8 on eBay here

Follow Casual Photophile on Facebook and Instagram

[Some of the links in this article will direct users to our affiliates at B&H Photo, Amazon, and eBay. By purchasing anything using these links, Casual Photophile may receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. This helps Casual Photophile produce the content we produce. Many thanks for your support.]

Nick Clayton

Nick Clayton

Nick Clayton is an educator, musician, environmental advocate and photographer living in the Blue Mountains of Ontario, Canada with his wife and their three children. He can be found on Instagram & Twitter as @nicknaclayton

All stories by:Nick Clayton
31 comments
  • My M8 bought on 31 Dec 2006 is still working well. I mostly use it for IR photography, where it works very well, producing lovely false colour dreamy hazy blue images. It had a new electronic suite and sensor under warranty, at around 6 months of age. A lot of the early cameras had this problem. It would switch itself off, just as you were about to take the perfect photo. The battery had to be removed to reset it.

    Wilson

    • Thanks for bringing up this way of using the M8. Many users like yourself have embraced the IR sensitivity of this camera fully, especially for black & white work that mimics infrared film. This is a unique option that the M8 provides, no filter required – on your lens or in Instagram!

      What was the reason for your repair? The M8 was a bold first attempt by a small company, and there were many issues. My shutter mechanism failed at around 16,000 actuations and I had it repaired through Leica Camera US in NJ. I don’t know if this is coincidence, but since that tune up I have not experienced a lockup. I haven’t tried my luck either, though! I speak from experience when I say this is especially inconvenient and embarrassing to have to pull your battery when in a professional setting.

  • I really like the pictures : great.
    Bravo.
    Thanks

  • Great write up of a deserving camera. I have fond memories of mine and it was a great travel partner. I found a deal on an M8 ($1200) with an updated 8.2 shutter mechanism (topped out at 1/4000sec) and enjoyed the camera for over two years, but ultimately got cold feet thinking about the possibility of an eventual $2k sensor replacement. Amazingly, I sold it for $300 more than I bought it for after two years. I thoroughly enjoyed the feel and process of photographing with the M8 but did not enjoy the thought of electrical component failure and seriously expensive repairs always in the back of my mind, so I rolled the proceeds into the best ss M3 I could find, sent it to Don G. for an overhaul/checkout and haven’t looked back. The colors from the M8 were fantastic, but I mostly converted to bw so the M3 paired with all of the fantastic bw films available was perfect for me. Was your bw drummer image shot at iso 2500? I don’t remember banding like that in my images, but I never really shot it above iso 640. As an aside, if you dig sharp, quirky, cheap used cameras, I’ve been having a blast with my tiny DP2 Merrill as a stitch-pano landscape camera that also takes insanely good bw images. Cheers!

    • Your experience of nearly seamlessly switching from M8 to M3 is an affirmation of how I think of this camera as a digital ‘film’ camera. I do believe that has a lot to do with its enduring appeal. Thanks for sharing!

      A great travel camera, yes! A couple of the photos here are from a pre-pandemic trip to New Orleans. The M8 with a 35mm Summicron was my constant companion in the French Quarter and the Jazz & Heritage Festival.

      I had a repair done (see earlier comment), and it is unnerving. As with all things Leica, it was expensive – the cost of the repair on the shutter mechanism was 25% of the value of the camera! This is less of a consideration on a $8000 M10, and that is why I believe they should have a sliding scale for repair costs to alleviate the concern that you had, and that I share.

      I have a hard time believing there will come a day where they will send a camera back with a note saying “Sorry, no parts!”. If the M9 sensor corrosion issue is any indication, I think an upgrade program would be more likely.

      The drummer photo was indeed shot at 640, but it was significantly underexposed and pushed hard in Lightroom. That accentuated the banding and noise, I’m certain. But I love the look!

      I will definitely look into the DP2 based on your highly regarded recommendation. Have fun!

  • Come off it. If this turkey didn’t say “Leica” on it, it would have been dismissed long ago as an overpriced, underperforming cult curio — the way sensible photographers dismiss its near-contemporary the Epson R-D1. (And never mind the crazy-priced R-D1s you see offered on eBay… the fact is that reputable used-camera dealers won’t touch them, suggesting that the real market is limited to a handful of fanatics.)

    So rather than as a survey of something that a person who cares about making actual photographs might want to buy, it makes sense to view this article as an interesting example of the cycle of intentional myth-making in which Leica idolators participate on an ongoing basis.

    The “greater-fool theory” that economists cite to explain irrational stock-market prices (“It doesn’t matter what price a fool pays today as long as he can find a greater fool to pay more tomorrow”) provides a self-interest rationale for this practice: “I’ve got to put some lipstick on this pig to prop up the market price in case I need to unload it.” But this impulse to multiply real-world vices into invented virtues (I read that some guy said he heard that some guy said he heard another guy say that it was designed to be just like Kodachrome!) seems unique to Leica in the digital photography realm.

    (Of course it’s also a way of life for nouveau film-photography cultists… but that’s a completely different breed of photo-animal.)

    Seriously: If it suddenly were discovered that the shutters of digital Ms occasionally explode and drive metal shards deep into the user’s eyeball, I am dead-nuts positive that soon we’d be reading a raft of essays about how the bracing threat of having metal shards driven into your eyeball is actually a positive benefit that adds gravitas and significance to the Leica photography experience, investing the image-making process with even more ineffable value. Whereas with any other brand, everybody rational would scream “WTF! Get that thing away from me!”

    • I truly love this comment. I’ve bashed Leica a lot on this site, because they do silly things that are fun to make fun of – Lenny Kravitz Edition, charging more money for the M10D (where’d the money go that they saved not installing a screen?), the .95 series of pens and headphones…

      That said, man, sometimes people just like stuff. It doesn’t mean Leica fans are stupid, or fools as you say. I wrote about the Fuji X100 (the original one) and the Contax TVS Digital, a 5 megapixel camera. Neither of these cameras are great, today. They have their quirks and failings, especially compared to modern cameras. Sometimes the way things work or are designed just speak to us. I had fun shooting those, and I think Leica M8 users must have fun shooting theirs. I don’t know if that makes them foolish.

      Yeah, the Leica cult can be silly. But let’s just smile about it, because the world is a better place with a little silliness in it.

    • Greetings Mr. Williams,

      Thank you for your comments, I have read them thoughtfully.

      By sharing my particular experience with this camera, I am attempting to evaluate it in a contemporary context to generate discussion with other owners, would-be owners, and also those with constructive dissenting opinions. There is no other agenda. l assure you that even though I use a Leica, I am not so delusional as to believe that I can manipulate the market value of this camera with my alleged myth-making idolatry.

      This article is a sincere accounting of my own experience using this camera, flaws and all, but it is not a technical review. If that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest you DP Review’s original review of the M8. Be forewarned though, it is likely more positive that what I have written here

      Personally, I value the process of photography just as much as the product. The M8 works for me on both counts. I also respect any individual photographer’s approach and practice though it may differ from my own. There is no right way, and Leica M is not the only way. The merits of shooting a Leica, or any manual rangefinder focus camera, are not immediately obvious to everyone, and will never never be to others.
      Generally, I find your reaction to the fact that anyone still enjoys using the M8 (or any Leica) a little overstated, and unnecessarily punctuated by violent imagery. Your enthusiastic rhetoric creates a false dichotomy of sensible, reputable photographers who make “actual” photographs vs. a cult of foolish, fanatic idolators. I like to think I’m a little of both, if that’s ok. You’re entitled to your opinion, and I welcome it, but if you just need to be right, at least do it a little more respectfully.

      Nick

  • Thanks for the review….. its always good to see an M8 article out there……I love using my M8 and it gives me great pleasure to shoot with it. Im just an amateur, and for me much of the appeal is that its like a film camera in how you shoot, just a bit easier in that there isn’t the hassle of developing film. I rarely shoot indoors at night, so I rarely miss the limited ISO, and actually i find it funny how so many on the internet seem unable to cope without ISO 15 million – maybe its different if you shoot professionally. Anyway, Im not going to sell it unless 1 day it breaks – and its interesting to how little difference in image quality there is between the M8 and M9. On a Facebook M8 group, someone recently compared 2 virtually identical images taken with an M8 and an M9. there were only subtle differences (on a small screen), mainly in colour, what what surprised me what how little difference in depth of field there was at 2 images taken at f1.8. Found it interesting as so many people argue against the M8, that actually that M9 isn’t that much different – just perhaps with no crop factor, lens choice is a bit easier..

    • I appreciate your feedback, and I know what you mean – I have a hard time not taking pictures with it when this thing is around! Having started as a film photographer I feel the M’s pedigree as a manual photography tool resonates with me as well. May yours never break! *knock on wood

      Yes, the adoption of CMOS and the (highly successful) quest for ever higher ISO have turned the CCD into a bit of a relic. However, this rapidly changing context has carved out a niche for the CCD sensor as an authentic way to add a unique and nostalgic character to your images, should you choose to embrace it, as many have.

      With regard to the M8 vs. M9 CCD sensor, although the surface area of the M9 sensor is larger, in almost every other regard (pixel pitch, size, density) their sensors are nearly identical, and so is their resolution. IR issue aside, if you can live without full frame and the subtle difference in DoF, the M8 provides the Leica rangefinder experience and IQ at a lower cost.

      Best,

      Nick

      • Hi Nick……. I think its interesting that the difference in DoF between the M8 and M9 isn’t as much as people think, despite when people if they ask ‘should they buy and M8’ – so many people claim that anything but full frame is useless. I think the only real difference is that the M8 changes your lens options a bit. I have a 17mm, a 28mm and a 40mm – and I like that the M8 works well with more unusual lens choices…I suppose the question for many is how long these cameras will last. It seems more to be shutters that fail more than sensors, but maybe if that ever happens, something like the M10 might be more affordable. Till then the M8 works well, and I tend to use it more and not worry – were I to be using a camera costing 4 times more.

  • Very thoughtful piece. I bought a used, well-loved M8.2 a few years ago. I’m primarily a digital shooter right now but I do also enjoy film cameras. I think your analogy to a film camera with an endless roll is perfect. If you appreciate the camera for what it is rather than worrying about what it isn’t then it’s a great experience.

    And honestly the technical shortcomings are exaggerated for most circumstances. It’s not super fast to process and the screen isn’t wonderful, but having used many older digital cameras it’s really perfectly fine. And the unfiltered IR look isn’t offensive to me so if I swap lenses and don’t have a filter handy it’s not a big deal. If you enjoy B&W it’s not a factor at all.

    • Hi Bryan,

      Experience with film is an asset you bring to the M8, and you clearly have the right mindset. I feel like we make a lot of excuses for the M8, and people who want to write off this camera certainly have a lot to work with, but clearly it rewards us enough for us to look past its faults. There’s a genuine beauty in appreciating something for what it is rather than what you want it to be, and that ability may be the difference between those who enjoy this camera and those who do not.

      Best,

      Nick

  • So happy to see that people are writing about older digital Leicas these days. I’ve been debating to pick up a M8, and this review defiantly has guided me in the right direction. The team of writers James has here is talented, and defiantly well spoken.

    Thank you guys for the advice!

    • Glad you enjoyed the read. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want some advice from myself or any of the other owners here. Good luck!

  • “It’s mostly well designed and entirely well built, and intended to last a lifetime.”

    Key word is “intended”.

    I love Leica’s optimism.

    Lovely pics. That’s what matters.

    • True on both counts 😉 The intention for the camera to last may be more mine than Leica’s. I really believe in owning things that are repairable and worthy of repair. I come by this honestly, as my father was a child in England during the Second World War, and as a consequence of him spending his formative years rationing, we were raised to never waste anything.

      Of course there’s no war now, but those life lessons have a new meaning and importance in a modern context. Our culture is built on cheap, disposable junk, and that includes digital cameras that are intended to be obsolete as quickly as possible so that consumers will have something new for which to plunk down their hard-earned dollars. That makes me appreciate Leica for making a temperamental brick of metal that can be tinkered with, revived, and eventually used for parts, I would hope. Until then, lovely images!

      Thank you for your comment!

      Best,

      Nick

  • A nice read and I like the idea of embracing older digital cameras, too. However I have to disagree on the point that the images have a look resembling a Kodachrome look. I think they look nothing like Kodachrome when comparing with the photos from the linked article. I believe the camera can be fun to use, but I wouldn’t be able to tell these photos from any other generic digital camera from the same era. That’s just romanticized marketing speech 🙂

    • Romanticized? Definitely! Marketing? Perhaps. To be clear, I took some creative license in comparing the M8’s output directly to Kodachrome and I do not claim the early Leica CCDs as the digital heirs to the legendary (functionally) extinct film. However, I do find it a useful to shoot the M8 as though it were loaded with slide film, and there is at least some anecdotal evidence of a relation to Kodachrome, hence my choice to make that comparison.

      The sensor in the M8 was developed cooperatively with Kodak, but even if Kodachrome was the goal, something was lost in the translation to digital. Also, keep in mind that these images were DNGs that were run through Lightroom and edited to my personal taste.

      In the end, I like to think the M8’s output stands on its own, and I just really love what it produces.

      Best,

      Nick

  • I was a Leica (M8) owner for about a week.

    I had a love/hate relationship with the camera in that brief time. To whit,

    Love

    The viewfinder. Big and bright (although no bigger or brighter than my humble Bessa R) with all the framelines you could want.

    The rangefinder. It had a clarity and clinical precision that made every other rangefinder camera I’ve used before or since feel like focus guesstimating.

    The feel. Anywhere you touched felt fantastic.

    Hate

    Almost everything else, to be honest

    As the above commenter so hyperbolically and hilariously mentioned, the shutter DID sound like it was going to explode every time I fired it. The electric whirring after it went off sounded like a little robotic man inside of it was recocking an invisible film advance lever.

    The meter. WTF Leica? Three LEDs? Seriously? Couldn’t pony up for a few more red LEDs in there? What do they cost, $0.02 a piece?

    The IQ… Yes the colors are different from any other digital camera I’ve used. I wouldn’t necessarily call them film like however. I liked that all I typically needed to do to the DNG files was up the contrast. However…the files were very often extremely noisy and my copy exhibited an unacceptable degree of banding. To be fair I didn’t notice or care about any IR sensitivity. All in all there were too many compromises for a camera of its price.

    Love/Hate

    The bottom door to change the battery. On one hand it’s SO inconvenient and totally unnecessary. On the other hand it’s really cool.

    Also the battery charger was literally the size and weight of a brick.

    On mine the screen was totally shattered in shipping, hence it getting sent back within the week. But to be honest I was kind of happy cause I got to try it out and I felt like I dodged an $1100 bullet…

  • Well, here it is folks – as definitive an answer as we’re likely to receive on the Kodachrome debate. Perhaps Thorsten Overgaard will get in on this too 😉
    I reached out to Leica Camera in the hope of receiving a response from Stefan Daniel himself, and I did! There may be a little egg on my face, given the title of this article:

    Dear Mr. Clayton,

    I hope you are doing well. Peter Brieger forwarded your question to me.

    It was definitively not a development target to make the M8 colours look like Kodachrome. I frankly do not remember whether I did a statement comparing the M8 rendering to Kodachrome back in 2010. Most likely is that someone made such a comparison during a talk with the LHSA and I might have agreed. Sorry for not being more specific regarding this matter.

    All the best,

    Stefan Daniel

    BTW: nice article about the M8!

    Mit freundlichen Grüßen / Kind regards

    Stefan Daniel

    Leica Camera AG / Global Director Product Division Photo/ Am Leitz-Park 5 / D-35578 Wetzlar/ http://www.leica-camera.com /

    • Interesting reply from Leica. Although the sensor was made my Kodak, I wonder if using the term ‘Kodachrome’ might have involved additional costs – unlike Fuji who own the brand names for their film emulations…… Im not totally sure my M8 images are like ‘Kodachrome’ – but they definitely have a ‘film’ look and for me so much more pleasing than raw files straight from a M240…… I like not hardly having to edit M8 images…… although I would be amazed how many ‘experts’ on some forums decry the older cameras…… I wish someone had told me that without ISO 100,000 I can take proper photos lol…..

      • Thanks Simon, your comments on image quality, editing, and ISO resonate very much with my own experience with the M8. Glad it isn’t just me! I would very much like to see the DoF compared to full-frame M9. Besides the increased Field of View, that would be the main reason I would want to upgrade, as it were. Those reasons have yet to be compelling enough for me to trade in for an M9, though. For me, the M8 remains the cost-benefit ratio champ of the M system.

        As far as Kodachrome goes, it is safe to say, based on the response from Leica and the look of the files from the M8, that Kodachrome colors were never a technical consideration, and at most an emotional aspiration.

        Best,

        Nick

  • Hey Nick a very nice and understandable review about your attitude towards the M8. Mine is quiet similar. As a digital Photograph (analog is very long ago) I have a more and more slower procedure of taking pictures since I startet with the M rangefinder. The M8 is in no matter superior to other cameras. BUT it feels very nice and this gives me more power than a clean and quick autofocused shot with a high MP tool. Thats what I like about the M8.2 especially.
    The very slow processor is often annoying… but on the other hand there are beautiful pictures coming out of it and beeing slow is what I like.
    Leica is somehow different and I do not at all favor any kind of special editions and vitrine collecting… I like to use it, bothe my M8.2 and my M9P

  • I think Leica collector’s editions would make an interesting subject for an entire article. Luckily, CP’s Josh Solomon’s wrote a great article on gold cameras that pretty much says all that needs to be said: https://casualphotophile.com/2018/08/08/gold-film-cameras-are-weird/

    The M8 is a camera in praise of slow. People may call us apologists for this, or worse, but we enjoy slowing down a bit! Each type of photographic tool affects the process of shooting, and the deliberate and considered style demanded by the M8 offers a little bit of reprieve from a world that perhaps moves a little faster than we’d like. The images feel and look different as a result.

    Best,

    Nick

  • Kodachrome gives the spectral dye density for the Yellow-Magenta-Cyan dyes used for the film, subtractive color process. The KAF-10500 long data sheet for the CCD used in the M8 gives the spectral response as Quantum Efficiency for the Red-Green-Blue dyes of the Bayer filter. These data sheets are published, but getting harder to find. I downloaded the KAF data sheets long ago.

    Did the Kodak Engineers try to make the color rendition of the M8 look like Kodachrome- probably. Too late to call them up and ask. You used to be able to call the engineers at the sensor Division at Kodak and ask, even have a custom run of the sensors done. I had Kodak make a custom full-spectrum CCD made, over 25 years ago. Kodak DCS200ir.

    I’ve had my M8 for well over 10 years now. I tend to use it in true Raw mode with the “Button Dance” and M8RAW2DNG to produce 20MByte DNG files. The M8 uses 14-bit pixels, but the firmware uses a truly bad lossy compression scheme. This is responsible for the banding shown in high-ISO images, and in shadows of under-exposed images.

    https://cameraderie.org/threads/i-dont-like-lossy-image-compression.38716/

    https://cameraderie.org/threads/leica-m8-set-to-iso-ludicrous-speed.38677/

    https://cameraderie.org/threads/visible-infrared-with-the-leica-m8.49076/

    https://cameraderie.org/threads/experiments-in-leica-m8-and-m9-conversions.38737/

    It’s like I told my neighbor, with everyone owning Digital Cameras, you’d think more people would be writing their own image processing software. I know Two that did their own for the M8. Me, and Arvid- who wrote M8RAW2DNG.

    Having the full uncompressed image from the M8 opens up a lot of new possibilities to explore: Color-Infrared similar to Infrared Ektachrome, where visible+infrared is used for some interesting colors, and shooting in much lower light.

    The M8 CCD has a higher “Saturation Count”, meaning it can collect more light than the M9 sensor, by about 50%. The M9 sensor is full-frame, likely required more “thinning” to collect light coming at angles on the edge of the sensor.

    The M8 is also the only Leica Rangefinder to offer 1/8000th top shutter speed. If you like shooting wide-open, a real advantage.

  • Thank you Brian, for your unique technical insight into this camera. I am curious as to why you would order a test run of CCD sensors from Kodak, and also as to how your neighbour keeps up with you in conversation! In any case, if someone with your expertise finds merit in the M8, there must be something there.

    I found the links you posted via online search a while back during a period I was experimenting with the M8RAW2DNG software myself. I absolutely love that this type of “hacking“ is going on, giving new life to an old digital camera. It really speaks to entirely different value proposition that Leica cameras provide that photographers find it worthwhile to invest effort in an old camera rather than just replace it. We’re not unlike a group of vintage Mini Cooper owners tinkering with fifty year old cars!

    In the end, I discontinued use of the M8RAW2DNG software (it also seems the website for the software is no longer available!). Although it was a fun bit of nostalgia, I found doing the “Konami Code” to get into the system menu cumbersome. Also, the increase in IQ for the majority of my shooting wasn’t enough to justify the added bump to digital workflow necessitated by the software.

    That said, the benefits to ISO noise that you have documented are compelling, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use this hack to get the most out of the M8’s sensor in challenging conditions. The added write times in these situations would be well worth it. Your infrared photos look very cool too!

    Thanks for your contribution to the community!

    Best,

    Nick

    • Nick- I called Kodak to have an Infrared Version of the CCD fabricated, Kodak did not offer that option in 1992. The engineer laughed and told me how hard it was to make the sensor look like film, and I wanted all that undone. A few weeks later they called back and said they were doing a run of 50 IR sensors, I got the first one in a Kodak DCS200ir. I’ve worked in an Optics Lab since 1979.

      Arvid’s site was up just this month- but does not surprise me if he takes it offline. I have the software and documentation downloaded.

  • Your profession certainly explains your expertise on the subject! Your conversation with the Kodak engineer is a very interesting anecdote. It lends credibility to the claims of CCD sensors being film-like. I looked up the M8RAW2DNG website as recently as yesterday, and the site is still down. Good to know it still exists in some form, as I’m sure there are many M8 owners who would appreciate the opportunity to unlock the full potential of their cameras.

  • ” the M9  – the world’s first full-frame digital rangefinder. ” — At the time, and even now, Leica is the ONLY company that produces digital rangefinders. Fuji’s X-Pro series is rangefinder only in styling. So, to claim that M9 is the world’s first digital rangefinder, while factually correct, to me at least, sounds like one beating his own chest.

Leave a Reply

Nick Clayton

Nick Clayton

Nick Clayton is an educator, musician, environmental advocate and photographer living in the Blue Mountains of Ontario, Canada with his wife and their three children. He can be found on Instagram & Twitter as @nicknaclayton

All stories by:Nick Clayton