Revisiting the Leica M8: a cheap entry into digital rangefinders?

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Latte Ninja. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

In the last few years, rangefinders (effectively only the Leica M system) have experienced something of a renaissance; I think partially due to the market being over saturated with DSLRs to fill every niche, and partially due to the full frame M9 which so many Leica shooters had been clamoring for. A frequently asked question is ‘why is DRF technology lagging so far behind its DSLR counterparts?’ After all, the innards are pretty much the same – sensor development and fabrication is so horribly expensive and complex that it can only be undertaken by a handful of either very large or very specialized companies; the electronics are largely FGPA-based (i.e. with reconfigurable chips) and there are plenty of good software coders out there – just look at the proliferation of Apple apps. Micro 4/3 has arguably pushed miniaturization of the electronic components even further – so it can’t be the body size that’s holding back DRF development.

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Yin Yang. Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1

Aside from the M9 and its derivatives (full review of the Leica M9-P here, and the M-Monochrom here), the only other digital true range finders that have made their way to market in the past were the Epson RD1 and RD1s (both using the same 6MP Sony APS-C sensor) and of course the Leica M8. All of these cameras have been M-mount, a sensible choice because it’s the most versatile and open of the RF systems – and of course has the greatest selection of lenses, from second hand $200 Voigtlanders to $12,000 Noctiluxes.

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A Parisian cliche. Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1

No, I suspect the reality is that what’s preventing us from seeing a DRF with competitive specifications isn’t technology, but the economics of market sizing: Leica sold about 30,000 M9s in the two-and-a-half years after launch; by comparison, Nikon makes about that many D800s every month. To invest such levels of R&D spending into a very niche product doesn’t make economic sense – even if you are charging three or four times what a comparable spec DSLR goes for.

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Having said all that, you’re probably wondering about the title of the article: Leica M8? Is that a typo? No. Even with the technological, sensor and usability limitations (manual focus and built in frame lines for 28-90mm only, for instance) there are still good reasons why you might want a rangefinder. And even more reasons why you might consider technology that’s now realistically nearly seven years old – which is an entire geological epoch in the digital era.

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Contemplating the journey. Leica M8, Zeiss 21/2.8

For a start, rangefinders are far less intimidating to your subject than DSLRs. They’re also smaller. Yes, there’s Micro 4/3 and all of its different flavors: but which one of them gives you a proper optical finder? None*. If you want an optical finder, and a responsive focusing system, a rangefinder is the only way to go. The lenses are also smaller, because they don’t have to house AF components or retrofocus/ telecentric designs to clear an SLR’s mirror mechanism.

*I’m deliberately leaving out the Fuji X100 and X-Pro1 cameras here; I don’t consider them to be rangefinders, and they have their own entire set of issues – slower AF than manual focusing a rangefinder being the biggest of them.

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Cloister. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

Let’s assume for now that your priorities are to be inconspicuous, travel light, have an optical finder, and do documentary work in the 28-90mm range – let’s not bother with flash for now. That basically puts an M as your only option. You could buy a new M9 and lenses, but that’ll be painfully expensive; with three fast lenses (28/2, 35/1.4, 50/1.4 or 75/2) you’re already looking in the vicinity of US$30,000. And that might not even be your primary system, because if you want macro, precise framing for your ultra wide, or telephoto, you’re out of luck.

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Compact. Leica M8, Zeiss 21/2.8

This is where a second hand M8 starts to make some sense: you can find clean, low-mileage examples in the US$2,000-2,500 range; pair that with some Zeiss ZM or Voigtlander glass, and you’re in business. Some of the Zeiss lenses like the 21/2.8 and 50/2 are outstanding in the own right, and the Voigtlanders offer unique options that aren’t available natively to Leica M (12mm and 15mm pancakes, or an affordable 50/1.1 anybody?). Let’s say we do the same system with equivalent fields of view (i.e. 28mm, 35mm, and 50 or 75mm) – I’d pick the Zeiss ZM 21/2.8 Biogon, the Zeiss ZM 35/2 Biogon and Zeiss 50/2 Planar or Voigtlander 50/1.1 Super Nokton. You could easily do that around the US$8,000 range, even if you buy all the lenses new. And if you decide for whatever reason that you don’t like the rangefinder experience, selling it on isn’t going to cost you very much, or be very difficult. Think of it as a rental.

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One of those moments. Leica M8, Voigtlander 50/1.1

But what about the sensor and electronics? It is, after all, seven year old technology. The reality is that the M8 was a bit on the noisy side even when it was new; that hasn’t changed. However, it was also capable of excellent images at that time – that also hasn’t changed. (All of the images in this article were shot with a Leica M8 and a variety of lenses.) So long as you understand the inherent limitations of rangefinders, and those of the camera itself, you’ll be fine. Even if you have to shoot in low light. The sensors of the M8 and M9 are CCDs. CCD technology delivers a rich tonal response in the shadows and highlights that is very difficult to achieve with a CMOS; the tradeoff is noise and color accuracy.

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Looking for information. Leica M8, Zeiss 21/2.8

Let’s talk a bit about the limitations of rangefinders in general, and the M8 specifically:
- Built-in frame lines for 24-90mm only, with a 1.3x crop factor – 32-120mm equivalent. Use an external finder if you need wider.
- 10MP CCD, ISO range of 160-2500, but I’d stick to 640 and lower for optimal image quality, and 1250 in a pinch. Either use fast lenses, or meter for the highlights.
- Realistically, it’s a single frame advance camera. The continuous modes are not worth talking about. Anticipate your shots!
- 6 DNG frames when the barrel is hot. Overshoot this and you’re going to run into card corruption and buffer dumping issues – which will require pulling the battery to unlock the camera.
- Inaccurate frame lines. They’re calibrated for 1m, instead of something that makes more sense like say 2m. The M8.2 had its frame lines updated to correspond to the view at 1.5m instead, which is an improvement, but no idea. Just frame with the outside of the frame lines. A little practice will help you to visualize what will be in-frame and what won’t.

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A very friendly Parisian. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

- Poor battery life. Carry a spare.
- Crappy LCD. No point chimping on this camera, because the LCD is so poor it’s impossible to tell what’s in focus and what isn’t – just save it for the PC. You’ll save a bit of battery life, too.
- Metering issues with strong point light sources. The M8′s center weighted meter gets easily confused by strong point light sources in the frame; it’s very important to keep an eye on the meter reading. If it looks too high to make sense, then you probably want to override manually by using the shutter speed dial directly.
- No easy exposure compensation. Move the camera a bit until you find the exposure you want, then half press until the little dot between the left numbers appears – this locks exposure.

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Turbine. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

- Manual focus. I’ve left the biggest issue for last. It isn’t manual focus per se that’s the issue, but focus calibration: if it’s out, it’s out, and you can kiss goodbye to sharp images. The rangefinder interacts with the lens through a series of very sensitive and precisely calibrated cams, and in my experience with several digital M bodies, they do drift – more so with frequent mounting and dismounting of lenses. It’s highly recommended that you get the body calibrated to the lenses you intend to use on the camera, and this goes for any digital M body.

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Children. Leica M8, 35/2 ASPH

The M cameras tend to be extremely polarizing cameras. They’re either intensely refreshing, and offer a very different shooting experience, or they’re extremely frustrating due to their lack of flexibility. Rangefinders are cameras that force you to adapt to their way of working, not the other way around. If the way you see happens to fit this, then you’re in for a great experience. Unfortunately, the only way to find out is if you have a particularly generous friend who’ll loan you theirs, or by going down the used M8 route.

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Canterbury Cathedral. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

I highly recommend sticking to one lens and getting to know it well; it will help in both keeping costs down as well as improving the quality of your images because it trains your eye to pre visualize. And there’s no harm in buying second hand Leica glass either; thanks to the recent trend of continual price increases, the lenses have been holding their value better than most blue chip equities. In fact, it’s probably the only class of photographic equipment that might even be considered an investment – certainly not the bodies, however. MT

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

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Spiral. Leica M8, 21/1.4 ASPH

Comments

  1. “No easy exposure compensation. Move the camera a bit until you find the exposure you want, then half press until the little dot between the left numbers appears – this locks exposure.”

    Once you’ve got the shutter half-pressed like this, spinning the selection dial left/right on the body will adjust the EV-/+.
    In practice it’s fairly awkard.

    • Awkward enough that it isn’t worth mentioning – the shutter button needs just the right amount of pressure to keep it locked, a little too much and you release, not quite enough and it won’t hold. The spin-the-dial option on the M9 is much better.

  2. Another good article, but I would have to disagree with you on the reasons for choosing an M8. Really the only reason to get one over a M 4/3 (now) is for the optical viewfinder and even then I would say the X100 is worth trying first given the price difference to see if the focus system is good enough for a person or not.

    You must really, really want an optical finder to choose an M8 for several thousands more than say the OM-D with comparable lens (without the downside of calibration issues to add)…..and hey if you really are into Leica you would be shooting film or have an M8/M9 already :D

    • I think the Ms are a lot more ‘transparent’ cameras in operation than the OM-D – they’re just that much simpler. I do find myself looking for settings or trying madly to change things on the fly with the OM-D but not quite making it work in time. The D-pad is just too small and low to use for quick focus point changes, for instance. I can actually focus just as fast or faster with the Ms than normal AF systems – partially because I know the focus distance setting by touch, and constantly change it when I’m out shooting – so there’s never a huge adjustment required. However, for everything else – high ISO, buffer, shooting speed, lens selection outside the 28-90mm range – the OM-D wins.

      • I think experience is a key part of M system and also of any camera and adapting to get the most out of it. For one not used to focussing with a range finder and also lacks the funds to seriously enter the world of M , I think I will stick with this auto focus malarkey :)

        • Haha – true. One of the reasons I sold my M8s was because I wasn’t shooting with them enough. I used to be able to zone focus at f1.4 and guess distance almost perfectly – then the day job got busy, and I couldn’t even focus at all half the time. I still us the M9 enough to be fluent with it, but you really have to stick to one or two lenses and use them all the time if you want to it to be synaptically intuitive.

  3. Great article and great pictures! I’m sticking with my M8 for now, as the quality of the pictures is simply astounding – at low ISOs I (very subjectively of course) with a good Leica lens, I have yet to come across any M4/3s that gets close. I just also love the handling – it’s a camera that just makes me want to go out and shoot. What came as a bit of a surprise to me is that I also really enjoy the manual focus and manual controls – I just know when I’ve nailed a picture and don’t have any surprises that the AF locked on to something different when shooting with a fast lens.

    Of course an M9 would be even better (although arguably a bit less bitingly sharp), but – at least until Photokina – quite out of my budget range. I wish Leica would make an M8.3 with the sensor in the Fuji X-Pro-1 and some of the usability enhancements of the M9 (maybe plus an external ISO dial) as a cheaper alternative to the full-frame M9/10 etc. for us mere mortals.

    • Thanks for the compliments. I think the M43s can match and exceed resolution, color accuracy and perhaps even dynamic range, but what they can’t do is replicate the same shadow and highlight quarter tone structure – you need a CCD for that. The M9 is every bit as sharp at the pixel level as the M8 providing you have the right lenses; it also seems to be a bit more sensitive to focus calibration. Both cameras share the same basic sensor architecture.

      Dr. Kaufmann already mentioned a new M at photokina; I’m sure we’ll see used M9 prices falling after that. It is at least three year old technology, after all.

  4. Mondostic says:

    Good review of the M8. I bought mine in 2009 when the first M9s arrived and the M8s started popping up used for good prices. Shot the first year with a Zeiss 35/2, which I’m very fond of. It’s a tricky beast to handle, but it does reward you with some great images, especially if you shoot black & white.

  5. Álvaro says:

    Great article, you really know what you are talking about… I have been using my M8 for 3 years and I’m very happy with it. it is a bit noisy and focusing requieres practice, but the lack of automatic controls makes you improve your photographic skills, by adjusting manually all the parameters before shooting. Within a bit of time you’ll be able of just looking at something and tell which would be the ISO, aperture and shutter-speed needed for a correct exposure before putting your camera in front of your eyes.

    It is not good for all situations (no tele or macro) but it is small, light and discrete. That makes it the perfect choice for street photos or landscapes.

    • Thank you. I find that if you nail it with the Ms, you really nail it…but near misses just look terrible. It’s a camera that demands you adapt to its way of working – if you can see within the limitations of the rangefinder system, it’s capable of great results. Not sure about landscape work though, the finder isn’t quite precise enough for that (personally).

  6. Thank you very much for your re-review of the M8. Which brings me in trouble, I already decided (more or less) to purchase a X2, since the M9 is financially way out of my leak. Now I am kicked back into doubts between an used M8 with a Voigtlander lens or a X2. Most important to me is stunning pictures. Features I really do not care about, so an M8 at aperture priority will do it for me.
    I do not care for the most pixel count possible, but rather have the quality.
    About 40 years ago (I was really very young at that time :-)) I started with range finder and all manual. Purchased the Nikon EL-2 in the 70′s and was very happy for many years. Upgraded to legendary Nikon F4 till I finally gave into digital with a Nikon D200, which I still use. I went through all the Nikon primes and zooms, but find myself lately going back to a single prime, and I am enjoying this a lot. On my trip last year to London and Amsterdam, I only took the 50mm prime and was very happy with it. It brought me back to photography instead of fiddling with the stuff. My focus was taking a good picture, zoomed with my feet and was more focused on the composition. So turning back where I came from.
    Do you have any thoughts on the issue M8 versus X2?
    Thank you very much for your attention. I am enjoying your blog, which I only discovered very recently.
    Best wishes,
    Frans Kemper

    • Thanks Frans. If you like the 35mm FOV – hands down, buy the X2. It will give you two, three stops more useable high ISO performance, better color and dynamic range, and a better LCD. It also shoots faster. The M8 will give you lens interchangeability, and a bit more responsiveness as you’re not dependent on the focusing system – that’s it. In my mind, it boils down to which focal lengths you prefer…

  7. Thanks for sharing this great review and pictures Ming! I am very happy with my recently acquired M8.2 and think I’ll buy a voigtländer nokton 50mm F1.1 while waiting for my ordered summilux 50 to arrive (waiting forever now). Your pictures with the Nokton are great, but when I am looking through the flickr group for nokton 50mm F1.1 images I notice a lot of very soft images with nervous out of focus parts. Whats your opinion on the voigtländer nokton 50mm and would you consider it a good portrait lens on both the m8 and analog m? Is it worth having the lens next to the lux 50? I am using my elmarit 28mm asph now but it is too slow when I move inside or when it gets dark..maybe I’ll have to look into a summicron 28mm (would also be awesome on a FF M).

    • I reckon you could look at the voigtlander nokton 35 F1.2 while you wait – it’s a much better lens than the 50, very flattering for wide portrait (and near 50mm field of view on the M8).

    • Thanks Pascal. The Nokton is tough to focus because of its shallow DOF and requirement for perfect RF alignment; but yes, the OOF and especially transition zones are very nervous indeed – get the wrong background subject and the bokeh can look pretty terrible. I’d suggest having a look on RFF classifieds for a used 50 lux, I know there are a few floating around in the last few days…I much prefer the rendering of this lens to the Nokton, and failing that, the Zeiss 50/2 Planar. Personally I’ve never been that happy with any of the M 28s – I need to find one of those Ricoh GR 28/2.8 lenses perhaps…

      • Thanks everyone for the good advice! I got myself a Nokton 35mm F1.2 II and I am very happy with it. Although sooc raw the colors are a bit flat until you reach F2.8. Switch to BW and the results are amazing! even wide open at F1.2. Sharpness is great (at F1.2 it is understandably a bit soft, but definitely good). On both my M’s the lens is a bit front heavy (tipping over), but that is imo not such a big deal.

        • Two questions – do you do any post processing (could solve the flat contrast issue, though the lack of both macro contrast and microcontrast seems to be something that has plagued every Voigtlander I’ve used; I think it’s the coatings); and is your rangefinder calibration accurate? It must be bang on to focus accurately at f1.2.

      • Yes the rangefinder is accurate at F1.2 and it is sharp (as sharp as it can be at that aperture). The flat colors occur when straight out of camera and I do process the images. The images are very good when processed correctly, so no problems there.

        • Good to hear it. I wonder how it fares as an alternative to the 35 FLE…

        • When I tested the 35 1.2 on my M8.2 and compared with the summilux 35 (which I eventually bought), the main things I noted were the image on the CV didn’t have the same pop, or contrast at 1.2 – but it had more pleasant bokeh, more of a painterly feel, and was far more flattering on the friend I brought with me to test the lenses on. ;)

          It has a totally different character to the Leica lens, but in a way that makes me sort of want to get it in addition to it.

          • Makes complete sense – I suppose one is like a brush, the other is like a fine drafting pen…

            • Exactly. With my limited experience of good lenses, I had no idea why anyone would have more than one lens of the same focal length – until I saw for myself that the character was so different that they could serve completely different purposes.

      • Thats good to hear. Some day I would like to add a 35 summilux as well, but first I would like a 28 summicron and 75 apo-summicron :)

      • I find the nokton also very easy to focus (easier then the 28mm elmarit I own). I intent to use the 75 apo summicron for portraits though, but most above all for parts of the face or tight head shots. I am attracted to the close focus (0.7m) ability which effectively gives this lens the highest magnification factor of all (non makro) leica lenses.

  8. First of all; what great pictures are there to be seen on your site, its always a great pleasure to read and watch. About the M8, I am using it now for two years and have a love (much) and hate (a little) relationship with it. I love it when it works for me and I nailed the picture, I hate it when the #$%@#% camera dies on me while the battery only was 1/3 empty! It doesn’t come to life again until I put a fresh battery in it…., very frustrating!
    What I do not hear a lot of people about is the housing. The housing gets uncomfortably cold when the temperature drops close to freezing point and It is almost impossible to hold the camera, while I have no problems to hold my Nikon D200 or even my Digilux 2 in the same circumstances. (the batteries of the latter two also keep working!). I know there is a lot of metal in an M body but so is in the D200 housing. I think Leica should have a look into the cladding (thicker, different material…). Perhaps it is a personal thing or do M-users live in warmer climates?
    Despite its quirks and frustrations, the D200 and Digilux 2 are going out (got an OM-D coming in :-) ) but the M8 stays!
    Thanks again for the re-review and the wonderful pictures :-)
    Robert Breedijk

    • Thanks Robert. Are you using original batteries or clones? I’ve had issues with ‘ebay specials’ in the past, but so far the originals I’ve had worked fine (and continue to work fine in the M9, too). The housing of all the Ms is like that – brass + no covering = low thermal conductivity (unlike the magnesium used in most other cameras). I don’t like using mine in winter, either. :)

      Enjoy your OM-D! I think you’ll find it’s a huge step up over the D200 and Digilux 2. By the way, have you entered my competition yet? :)

  9. Every time I read an article like this (and it’s excellently written with beautiful photography) I go check the cost of M8′s here in the States. And after a minute or less I move on. Perhaps the M8 is cheap relative to the M9, but in the grand scheme it’s not really cheap at all. What makes it worse is the cost of any decent lens in decent shape. For those of us on a constrained budget (which I suspect is well north of 90%) I guess we’ll have to stick with our extremely cheap µ4/3rds cameras, or the equivalent thereof.

    • To put it in perspective, it’s the cheapest way to get that sort of shooting experience. The problem is that you can get some really exceptional cameras for much less money – a second hand D700 is a great example of that – and even the glass costs aren’t that bad. (In fact, good glass for M4/3 is very cheap compared to DX and FF). So yes, you’re absolutely right, but don’t forget the context of the title :)

  10. Ming,

    I pretty much agree about the M8 but want to add two notes. First, I’m an experienced shooter but am not a fanboy. I’ve been shooting since 2000, mostly Canon 1 series cameras. My practice is to buy used or refurbbed (and $$$ depreciated) cameras and new lenses. Anyway, about 18 mos ago I bought a used M8 with a new CV Nokton 35mm f/1.4 to use as a normal lens. I really have not been disappointed. It does take a while to learn and the Nokton is a bit classical in its rendering, but I like it for my style of street photography. I would add something, though, about the IR issue.

    I’ve shot with an IR-cut filter and without and have found that the M8 without an IR-cut filter is a truly great BW camera. The ability to view into the near infrared means that many images, but especially those of people, will have an appearance and luminosity that is unmatched by any other camera without post processing. With the filter, after converting to BW, I would almost always have to boost the orange and possibly yellow and red sliders in the color balance settings. Without the filter, this happens less so as human skin is rendered in a more pleasing manner with more luminosity and tonality. Many dark fabrics will also show greater tonality as well.

    Also, if your preferred FOV is 50mm (or thereabouts) a 35mm (47mm equivalent) on an M8 will activate frame lines that take up a much larger portion of the viewfinder than will a 50mm lens on an M9. In essence, working with a 47mm equivalent one can use much more of the viewfinder, an added benefit.

    I still keep my Canon cameras and glass for appropriate times or when absolute precision is required. Most of the time, though, I’ll walk out the door with my M8 swinging on my shoulder.

    • Completely agree with your comments on B&W – I still haven’t been able to do the same with any other camera, though admittedly most of the time the IR cut filter stayed on because I like to have the option of accurate color, too. :)

      • Thanks for this article. I bought an M8 a few months ago and it was only these last two weeks that I shot with it almost exclusively. I guess this is the case when you have too much gear and a day job, you never get enough time to shoot and to shoot with one system and learn it well. I’ve read so much about the M8 and your take on it was a big reassurance. In the film days I shot with an M and a Bessa and I could never replicate the experience in the digital world. I bought the X100 18 months ago thinking it was the answer but I was just a different camera that what I hoped it would be (a poor man’s M).

        Here are some realizations:
        - Focusing is easier and faster. That’s just how rangefinders are. The distance scale and some practice gets you focused accurately pretty quickly. I must admit tabbed lanes help so I can feel where this focus is without looking down. I shoot with the 35 Summarit, the CV 40, and the CV 25 which have tabs and in the case of the 25 click stops. However, the closer the subject gets (between 3-5 feet) I focus less accurately. In the subway I was always between 7-8 feet and most of they shots were ok.

        - Guessing focus or pre-focusing allows me to shoot faster and at odd angles. I can shoot from the hip or while holding the camera down at my arms for quick snaps on low subjects or perspectives because I have the (reasonably) right distance.

        - The higher ISO is bad but not that bad. I’ve kept the limit to 640 like all the experts recommend and I find that if I meter for the highlights I get decent shots but I have to know that this photo will come out a certain way (no information in the shadows) and I have to be comfortable with that look especially shooting in the dark. For me the noise isn’t a huge factor since I like my photos in B&W.

        - I’m not too happy with the Auto ISO setting or I don’t yet understand the way it chooses the ISOs. I m observation it tends to choose lower ISOs and lower speeds the fire causing both camera shake and motion blur (when it’s possible not to have it). So I tend to just understand the lighting conditions where I am and choose my ISO. I notice I mind the speeds quite a bit when shooting the M8 especially when in auto ISO.

        - It is a demanding camera. The simplicity does frees me from many variables that might slow me down (several options and settings) but it does not mean I will automatically make or see better photographs. I have to work hard at not minding what I can change in the settings and commit the camera operation to a subconscious action and force my whole mind to concentrate on seeing. My last batch of photos depressed me – I need to practice much more to be able to get the most out of each walk.

        - Composition challenges. Because of the limitations of gear i previously owned from the film days, I shoot with a 50mm FOV 95% of the time and I’m realizing that though this is the normal FOV or a popular prime FOV, it is hard to compose – in my personal experience it is much easier to use a WA where I can put a lot more in the frame or a Tele where I can isolate things. I also noticed that its much easier to see the frame lines of the 35/40 than the 24/25. The latter sit out at the edge of the VF.

        I still have some questions on the M8 and I hope you can share some of your experience.

        - When users say that the M8 is a good camera for B&W, do they mean that it produces good RAW files that can be later on converted into good B&W or do the B&W JPEGs when shot in the B&W setting come out great already? So far my experience is with the latter.

        - If the B&W is achieved by shooting RAW and converting, what PP system do you guys use? Especially yourself, Ming. I have LR3 and the NIK suite but is there a much simpler / faster way to PP and get good B&W? I just find the two step of LR then NIK SEP 2 a little slow.

        - Any tips for better exposure? I’m noticing that when I’m outdoors in the light it helps to compensate -2/3 EV so I don’t get too much out fo the highlights. The metering system of Leica is quite sensitive to strong light sources even if they are out in the edges. Any tips on this? I guess the silver lining is that it meters only one way so I only need to be familiar with one metering method.

        That’s a about it. Thanks for indulging a long post. One day I’ll move on to the ME the FF version but for now I just want to get back to re-learning RFs to get the shots I like. That’s not as dependent on my gear as it is my ability to adapt to what I have within me now. Cheers!

        • Thanks for sharing your extensive thoughts. To your questions:
          - It produces good RAW files. The JPEGS – B&W or color – are a shadow of what you can do with the RAWs.
          - I don’t use any plugins or LR, it’s photoshop and individual dodge and burn plus curves all the way. Plugins will never let you find the perfect setting for every shot, since every shot is different. Either my PS workflow DVD or M-Monochrom workflow DVD will help you with workflow – it’s simple once you get it, but explaining the why is not.
          - Yes – for night/ dark scenes with lots of point sources, go manual. Develop a sense of light with your eyes. Eventually you won’t need a meter, or use it only as a guide.
          - A used M9 will be cheaper than the ME, and you get the frameline preview lever, too.

          Enjoy the M8!

      • Hi I ordered the Photoshop Workflow DVD! I hope it contains some B&W examples since I shoot for B&W images. I have to wait for the Leica to come back though since the shutter died :( I’m very excited to get the DVD and my M8 back

  11. I think you need to sort your logic out. You say: “Yes, there’s Micro 4/3 and all of its different flavors: but which one of them gives you a proper optical finder? None*. If you want an optical finder, and a responsive focusing system, a rangefinder is the only way to go. ”

    And then make the point: “*I’m deliberately leaving out the Fuji X100 and X-Pro1 cameras here; I don’t consider them to be rangefinders, and they have their own entire set of issues – slower AF than manual focusing a rangefinder being the biggest of them.”

    Well, none of the M4/3 cameras are rangefinders (just to reassure you on that one). Your rhetorical question was: which of the M4/3 cameras has an optical finder. The answer is, straightforwardly, resoundingly and unarguably the Fuji X100 and X-Pro 1. Whether they are rangefinders or not is irrelevant when answering that question, as is whether you consider them to be rangefinders or not, and even more so, whether they have their own entire set of issues.

    • Oops! My own reasoning is flawed too. Of course the X100 and X-Pro 1 could be excluded because they are APS and not M4/3. But otherwise, my point stands.

    • The X100 and XPro are not M4/3 cameras, they’re APS-C. One doesn’t even have interchangeable lenses. The confusion is for a lot of people who don’t know what a rangefinder is, but think that the Fujis are because of the windows and overlays.

  12. You say: “Let’s assume for now that your priorities are to be inconspicuous, travel light, have an optical finder, and do documentary work in the 28-90mm range – let’s not bother with flash for now. That basically puts an M as your only option.”

    This is manifestly not true. The X-Pro 1 fits exactly this set of conditions. Whether you like that camera or not is another matter.

    • The X-Pro is too slow, which means it isn’t an option.

      • Hi Ming, first time commenter. Ironically, I discovered your site via the Fuji X Pro Scoop.it page.

        I’m Leica film user (M6), and do a lot of street photography. I purchased a Fuji X Pro, and as you say, I found it too “slow”. But, it wasn’t the auto-focus – I found that acceptable, even in low-light. In the day light, it’s more than acceptable – I just don’t find any issue with it at all. However, the thing that irritated me the most was that with the Fuji 18mm lens, even in manual focus mode, there was sometime unacceptable delay from the time I pressed the shutter, to the time the photo was taken. Again, not a big deal, but as a “fast” street photographer, enough to piss me right off.

        I purchased a Leica M mount adapter (not the Fuji adapter, just a $20 ebay adapter), and mounted my Elmarit 28. The delay totally disappeared, and I can now zone-focus to my hearts content.

        Preferring the 28mm – 35mm FF focal length means I will need to look at a Leica lens around 18mm, or 21mm, to mount to my Fuji. The 28 Elmarit and 35 cron that I own are a little wide on the Fuji. With this combination, I find the speed, image quality, usability, and especially the high ISO performance, leagues above the M8 on balance.

        My budget hasn’t quite extended to M9 territory yet, so I’m happy to say that the X Pro with Leica glass, IMHO, is a seriously compelling combination for zone focusing street shooter.

        • Well, good to know there is a solution out there – odd that it isn’t Leica, though. You might want to try the Zeiss 18/4 and 21/2.8 biogons, which are both excellent – particularly the latter. There’s also the Leica 21/1.4 if you need to shoot in the dark…

  13. You have posted some good images here, and the article is interesting. The part that most interested me though was your claim that m4/3 cameras, with their CMOS sensors could not match the quarter tones in shadows and highlights of the M8′s CCD sensor.

    Is it possible for you to illustrate that?

    I currently use a 5DII, mostly with the CV 40/2 lens, which I find perfect apart from the bulk and weight. I am considering a smaller package, and as a long time M6 user I have, of course, considered the M9, given that I have a good collection of M lenses. More recently I have been looking at the OMD and the X100, but there are problems with all of these cameras when comparing them to the usability of the Canon 5DII.

    However, I shoot exclusively B&W, and if there really is a subtle IQ advantage in using the M9 for B&W, I might be able to put up with its other numerous limitations.

    • Not in a clearly demonstrable way, firstly because I don’t have an A-B direct comparison (no M8 now, and no M4/3 cameras then) and a lot of it is dependent on your post processing ability. But having done tens of thousands of files from both, I can safely say I prefer the tonality of the M8/9 sensor; it is to some extent a personal thing, but I do know that I can’t replicate that look from the M4/3 sensors with any amount of post processing. And it’s not a lens thing, because I’m using some of the same M glass on both cameras.

      If you want to replicate the 5DII, the closest thing is going to be the OMD. However, if you want a unique B&W look, then either get the M-Monochrom, or use the M8 without the UVIR filters. The additional reflectance off blacks and skin tones in the non visible spectra makes for some very luminous tones, which the M9 doesn’t have (heavy filtration) and the other cameras won’t, either (even heavier filtration).

      • David W. Griffin, Marietta, GA says:

        Good article, and good comments too. Just want to say one thing. I have an M8 and I’m toying with the idea of buying a M9 but I’d never get rid of the M8 BECAUSE of the IR sensitivity issue. It amazes me that people think of this as a disadvantage. I used to love IR photography and now I have the M8 that you can just slap an IR deep red or black filter on and go take false color and serious black and white infrared and often you can do it hand held! Go try that with your DSLR (without conversion). And then I can take the filter off and take regular shots. I’ve never really had color problems with landscapes but if I do I have IR cut filters.

  14. what a great article, thank you so very much for revisiting the m8!
    i sold my m8 for a 5dmkll a few years ago and have since become bored of the canon (and sold it 3 months ago). looking back at the photos id taken from both cameras the m8′s images are a clear favorite for me. i now find myself deciding between a used m8 and new om-d. reading your review and stunning photos has been super enjoyable, thank you!

    • Thanks Josh. That’s a tough choice actually – the OM-D is definitely more flexible, especially for low light work, but there is something unique about the M8′s B&W tones especially without the UVIR filter. I guess it depends how often you need wider than 32mm or longer than 120mm…

    • This discussion has certainly made me think about whether I want to “upgrade” to an M9/10 (and replace the M8.2 with it), or keep the M8.2 as well.

      • Different uses, I think. If you’re a tele shooter I’d probably say stick with the 8.2; I wouldn’t buy a 9 given they’ve already pretty much announced the 10, unless there’s a huge price drop afterwards.

        • I was sort of thinking about an om-d alongside the M8.2, for the odd bit of tele and macro. Maybe just a point and shoot like the RX100 would be just as suitable though.

          I’d buy the 9 if I didn’t think the 10 was compelling enough. I’ve invested in glass rather than bodies so far (28 2.8 asph / 35 1.4 asph / 50 2 / 75 1.4), so I have a fair bit of saving ahead anyway. ;)

          • The 10 is to have live view, so you’d be able to tele and macro with that too. I suppose it’s more a question of what sensor it’s packing – it’s going to be tough to get the same tonality out of a CMOS sensor (see my article on the D800E’s CMOS vs the M-Monochrom’s CCD) but at the same time, difficult to do live view with a CCD and latent heat issues. I suppose time will tell.

            How about a Pen Mini?

      • If you like BW(digital) or you like to use longer FL then keep the M8.2 and get a M9/10 next to it (I will do that). But I really hope that Leica will not compromise on IQ (tonality, as mentioned) to get something like live view (sorry Ming I know it would be great for food photography :)) which a rangefinder shooter does not really need. There are other tools for that.

  15. I had a Voigtlander Bessa R3A with a beautiful Nokton 50mm 1.5. I loved the rendering of that lens, there was something unique coming out of it. In the right settings, the bokeh was buttery smooth and beautiful. In the wrong settings, it could get a bit nervous…as most fast voigtlander lenses seem to.

    There I was with a manual focus camera with proper tactile feedback, metal housing, dials for the basic controls (shutter speed, aperture) – it was a fabulous learning experience. Shooting a rangefinder forces you to actually control every aspect of the image making process, to be aware of your surroundings (learning to assess distances by eye, for instance), and to learn framing in your mind before raising the camera to the eye. Those are huge steps towards getting better at photography in general. I have a spot in my heart for that camera because of that.

    But in the long run, it just was not practical enough. The rangefinder got miscalibrated (and aligning it back to the right spot was not easy at all), I lost many shots because of having this or that setting in the wrong value, and despite whatever people says, it was not a small or lightweight outfit – maybe compared to a full frame dslr, but those were the days were m43 or cameras like the fuji x100 did not even exist. In the end, it turned into a frustrating experience, and I could never get accustomed to working with the camera in a way that felt natural or intuitive so as to make it my main workhorse when doing street or travelling. So, off it went to ebay. No regrets.

    BUT! To anyone that has the curiosity of going through the rangefinder experience, I would say GO FOR IT in a heartbeat. You might grow to like it, and you’ll learn something out of it – that is for sure. Finally, as Ming said, you can always sell the camera and lenses and regain most of your investment, so you can consider it a loan.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Nicolas!

      I think the difference between your experience and my experience is that I always felt the Leica Ms were much better street/ travel cameras than DSLRs; I’m not continually worrying about settings/ wrong focus point/ AF system etc; most of the time I’ve got the 28mm on, I prefocus before framing, and BANG! shot taken. Move on. I feel like I spend less time in the shooting process. The downside is lack of weather sealing, much poorer battery life, and the huge elephant in the room – terrible high ISO performance.

  16. I have been happily working with the M8 for nearly 5 years now – it is the best digital camera I have ever used. Couldn’t care less about the crop factor, the iso limitations or the need for IR filters – I like the way my pictures look and that’s what counts. Would have liked a quieter shutter, but I got used to it. Never felt the need to go for the M9. I use just one lens now – a 28mm. I am hoping that I get another 5 years (at least) out of it.

  17. am i suppose to sell off my 5D Mark II + 35L to fund for this mind condition M8 … how many of you guys did it?

  18. One last thing on the X100 and the M8. I own both. I realize it is more frustrating for me that the focus misses because of the cameras AF system rather than when I miscalculate the focus. Working with the X100 is indeed slow despite the wonderful IQ of the photos but I do believe it has its uses – low light, lightweight rig, one hand shooting. With the M8 everything is in the shooters hands, IMO.

  19. ann stevens says:

    Beautifully crafted images, however the last 2 – Canterbury & Spiral – look like HDR processing. Having owned the M8 and living near Canterbury, it’s hard to see how even the M8 & the 21mm could have captured that dynamic range?

  20. Charles W says:

    Hi Ming, excellent photos with the M8. I think it still compares favourably to modern digital cameras, given sufficient light. I am in the market for a M camera (used only). Do you think the used M8 is worth considering now, or would it be much better to wait and pick up a used M9 when the new M comes out?

    • I don’t think the 8s are going to drop much further in price; the 9s probably still have some distance to fall. Second hand trade in here is around the US3.5-4k mark, which means that the direct market can still come down a bit. If you’re going to shoot mostly color I’d wait for a 9; B&W go for the 8.

  21. It is now 2013! I want to get a real rangefinder with my limited budget I am lucky to get one in hands for a resonable cost. My question is I am using it for few days and found it the colour is a bit off. Some mentioned a UV/IR filer is a must! Isn’t that true???

  22. I am still using a M8 and i LOVE it.

  23. iambowie says:

    I am still using a M8 and I LOVE it …

  24. I love my M8. I toy with upgrading to an M9, but the cost delta is very significant and I already have extensive $ invested in a 5D MK III and lenses (many alt). Your pictures and PP show that the M8 produces fabulous results.

  25. hey, i am looking this camera M8.2 badly and to no avail in Singapore.

  26. mnimier says:

    I Agree with yours comments.

    i made around 30 trips with my M8 purchased 1500 USD and it enjoyed my family and clients.
    You can see some pics with an 28 Elmarit and 50 Summicron:

    http://www.theleicaphile.com

    I’ll publish every day/week new pics

  27. sergeylandesman says:

    Dear Ming!
    I sold my Leica M8 five years ago and bought M9-P which I sold too while highly anticipating the new M 240.
    Looking at your M8 pictures have got me inspired, and I bought recently serviced M8 two days ago and I love it.

    Thank you again for your wonderful photos and I am looking forward to see you in Miami next years.

    Best Regards,

    Sergey

  28. sergeylandesman says:

    Sorry, next year .

  29. okay, i just got my M8.2 few week ago. Has been shooting it happily for BW photos.
    Hand coded my existing lens, what about UV IR block filter, is it a must for correct color rendition especially at night?

  30. I want an M8 for b&w – :-) What would be an OK price, considering normal use/wear? USD 1500? USD 1800? And Ming; of all the camera bloggers on the net; you’re the best photographer :-)

    • $1500 is about the ballpark now for a decent M8.

      As for your other comment – that would be because I’m a photographer masquerading as a blogger, not the other way around. I make my living from professional photography, not advertisements and referrals…

  31. Hi, I have to thank Ming for having contributed to my choice of the M8, which continues to be a great experience, even in IR: http://www.nikonland.eu/forum/index.php?/page/indice.html/_/fotografia-generale/leica-m8-infrared-r396

  32. Hello, do you any wireless sync work for M8.2?
    pocket wizard will be out of budget, as i need to fire 1 flash only.

  33. Ming, I am still trying to improve my skills with the M8, and have been using it more recently for this purpose. Compared to DSLRs, I find it harder to focus with the rangefinder system, but admittedly am getting more proficient at it. I really enjoy using this camera, because I have seen great photos come out of this camera.

    On the other hand, I am reconsidering if my lens is a good match on the M8, as I am currently using a 35mm f/2 Summicron V4. Even though I have gotten some sharp photos with the M8 and this lens, it does not seem especially sharp. I have compared it to my Zeiss 24mm f/1.8 Sony E-Mount lens on a NEX-5N, and am much happier with the colours and sharpness of the Zeiss.

    Do you have any recommendations for a good, sharp lens on the M8? And how about if excellent sharpness and rendering for the money is a consideration?

    Thanks,
    Chuck

    • I think your rangefinder is probably misaligned; this is a very common problem. The v4 is sharp – in fact, almost all of the Leica and Zeiss M mount lenses are excellent.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] In the last few years, rangefinders (effectively only the Leica M system) have experienced something of a renaissance; I think partially due to the market being over saturated with DSLRs to fill every niche, and partially due to the full frame M9 which so many Leica shooters had been clamoring for. A frequently asked question is ‘why is DRF technology lagging so far behind its DSLR counterparts?’  [...]

  2. [...] Link: Revisiting the Leica M8: a cheap entry into digital rangefinders? – Ming Thein | Photographe… This is where a second hand M8 starts to make some sense: you can find clean, low-mileage examples in the US$2,000-2,500 range Posted by Trent Nelson Posted in Leica [...]

  3. [...] Aside from the M9 and its derivatives (full review of the Leica M9-P here, and the M-Monochrom here), the only other digital true range finders that have made their way to market in the past were the Epson RD1 and RD1s …  [...]

  4. [...] decided to see if such tonality was really possible natively out of a digital camera. I recall the Leica M8 creating raw files which were excellent candidates for B&W conversion because of their luminous [...]

  5. [...] one a miss – unless you really want to use Leica M glass and can’t afford say, a used M8 – which would be a much better [...]

  6. […] had a chance to shoot with the new S, but the S2’s pixel-level architecture was shared with the M8 and M9 – and we know the performance of both of those dropped off sharply at anything above about […]

  7. […] how smooth and silent the shutter mechanism is; for those who’ve only experienced the digital M8 or M9 / M Monochrom, you’re in for a surprise. This type of shutter feel is precisely why […]

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