Leica M8

Thoughts on this old Leica classic.

UPDATE: FEBRUARY 24, 2021

I can speak with more knowledge now after using the camera for the better part of a month. a) write speed to the card is dreadfully slow but who cares? If one takes a series of three or more images in sequence, the write time can be between 10 – 15 seconds. b) The colors of the M8 are perfect for me. They palette fits my taste in colors to the “T”. My processing tends to the aquas and greens. I don’t have to process the M8 images for color, only for exposure and related. c) The battery has suddenly cut out a few times and the camera has become non-responsive. It happens quickly, with the battery showing up to half capacity. d) Black and White renderings are absolutely beautiful and sharp and contrasty. e) Having a crop sensor is an interesting change with my M mount lenses. Where I once had a 28 now I have something different. Color images straight from the M8, shot yesterday.


1. One must embrace the noise. There is color banding so one has to choose wisely with lighting or not care (and I don’t care). I have gotten perfectly good images shooting at ISO 640 in indoor light and at ISO 320 handheld at night. There is significant noise with anything above ISO 320 in a scene with contrasty or dark areas. While the noise is often “gnarlish” with color images, not so with black and white images.

2: The colors are wonderful, moody, playful and filmic.
3: The camera is dreadfully slow writing to the card. This trait is comical after getting accustomed to new blazing fast technology.
4. With this camera there is no useful chimping. The image displayed on the LCD screen is poor and it’s ancient technology. Zooming in on the play screen initially introduces a highly pixellated rendering that after a few seconds restores to as-shot. Regardless, the review process is not useful to judge the quality of focus or rendering.

5. Black and white JPGs are beautiful out of the camera, and biting sharp. I have posted companion DNG and .jpg images in different galleries below.

6. The shutter is loud and mechanical sounding, but reassuring at the same time. It is a wheezing sound preceding a pronounced click. It’s not a camera for stealth closeups on the street.

7. Build quality is Leica superb. The bottom plate is a bit fiddly. If you are a nailbiter, opening it can be a chore. The flat tab to secure the plate is not as sure and easy to set in place as the knobbish one on the M10 and other Leicas. The strap eyelets are on the front of the camera, causing the camera to hang a bit strange with different lenses. I have decided to use a rope hand strap, but miss the neck strap when trying to stabilize at slow shutter speeds.

8. The optimal lens for me for walk-about shooting is the Elmarit 28. From the crop factor the equivalence of roughly 35mm is achieved, and the end-image is close the the entire viewfinder. The 35mm frame line is quite a bit smaller, but still perfectly usable.

9. I haven’t had very good luck with battery life, especially in cold weather. I don’t think the battery that came with my used camera is OEM and I don’t know how old it is. I have purchased two additional made in China batteries because they are 1/10th the cost of the Leica battery. The knock off batteries work fine. I have a Nitecore battery charger that is much more compact than the giant OEM brick, and the Nitecore gives an indicator of battery health.

The images above were shot at ISO 320 using a Zeiss 35/2 lens. This was pushing the limits of the camera’s sensor to capture good images in these conditions. There is severe noise and color banding in the image on the bridge, regardless the image has a nice character. I believe shutter speed on the bridge image was only 1/20th but because of my position the strollers are relatively sharp. All images were shot at F2. Slow shutter speeds impacted the ability to achieve sharpness on many images, including these and more so on the ones I deleted in-camera or later. The black and white bridge shot is an in camera .jpg, suffering from slow shutter speed but a decent composition.

Above are two images shot at Iso 160 using the Summicron 35mm (F8). These are in-camera paired DNG (color) and Jpg fine (bw), cropped to remove unavoidable distractions from shooting out of my car window hindering composition. The black and white rendering is beautiful and I don’t see displeasing shifts in the color green to yellow or brown, nor is the ebony black stature rendered purple. These are a common complaints about the camera. I did not use any UV-IR cut filter, something that is recommended from my reading to correct weaknesses in greens and blacks.

Summicron 35/2. Warming in Lightroom

For the image of Eskimo King below I added an IR Cut / UV filter to the Summicron 35. The colors are as from the camera under these conditions and are very realistic and pleasing. Greens are green, blacks are black.

35 Summicron ISO 160 UV/IR Cut Filter

Below are companion DNG and Jpg images. The Eskimo King was shot at !so 160 F8 and the night scene Iso 2500 F2 through my car window. The black and white image is much easier to tame noise by reducing the blacks. The color image is from the camera with no adjustments but for a small increase in exposure, and a heavy move of the tint slider to magenta to reduce the green color cast from the street lights. The unique filmic rendering continues to shine and I am beginning to really enjoy shooting this beautiful camera.

These images were shot inside of In Your Ear Record Store with the IR Cut filter attached. Maybe I should not have used it? Regardless, I used auto white balance and there was a magenta cast and some transition of blacks to greenish in a few images that I corrected as best possible in post processing. The green hue is difficult to deal with with my limited skill. I had to cool the white balance slightly to compensate for the interior lighting, perhaps I should have used one of the artificial light settings. This is a negative to the M8 in that an effective test shot can’t be taken given the poor quaility of the screen. I shot DNG and black and white .JPGs so once again there are companion images. These were shot at ISO 640 and look good. I know other reviews get into the weeds on technical aspects of the camera but to me, nothing speaks louder than the images.

More shots taken wandering in my car after work. ISO 640 F 3.4 1/45th of a second. I used my car mirror to stabilize. Capture One loads both the DNG and the black and white .jpg. I can understand how to do this in Lightroom. I color corrected the white balance by increasing the exposure, then moved it back. Summicron 35 with BW color correcting filter on. I color corrected white balance in the color off of the whitish column.

I have not been able to escape my desk during the day, so I am left to experimenting with the M8 handheld at night, usually from my car window. These were shot at Iso 640. The color versions were very color banded and white balance from auto was extremely green. For these, I raised up the blacks in Capture One. The grain imparts such a filmic quality. Summicron 35.

Below are straight from the camera images, the color of course is DNG and the black and white is .jpg. The black and white .jpg’s are beautiful with lots of tonal range. They were shot using the 28mm Elmarit which is a good focal length for the camera, pretty much filling the frame with the end image.

These images were shot with the 28mm Elmarit on a snowy day in Newport. I used a yellow filter. I think the filter has a line in it or at least I hope that is why there is a demarcation line in the sky of one of the shots. The color image is a lark. All of the images imported to LR in color with a yellow cast. I went with it in color by fiddling with the new color wheels in LR. I didn’t purge all of the yellow.

Another version of this image. The last one (posted above) still had a yellow cast in the snow from the Black and White filter. It made the image look like a giant dog let loose on the beach! I like this one better. Shot using the 28mm Elmarit and I removed the small piece of fence in the foreground using the LR tool. Pleasing image with cool colors that I attribute still to the M8 sensor regardless of the editing mishmash.

lasousa2015

Husband, dad, photographer, old camera lover, lawyer.

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