It seems like a lifetime ago, but it’s slightly less than 10 years ago that Leica produced their first digital rangefinder camera. By the time the M8 hit the shelves, many professional Leica users already made the switch to Canon or Nikon, just because their clients demanded digital files. So Leica was late. Very late. And when the M8 came out, they didn’t make a good start either. It didn’t take long before people started complaining about black fabrics that rendered purple in pictures. The lack of an IR-filter appeared to be the cause of the problem and although Leica didn’t admit they ‘forgot something’, they supplied the M8-buyers with a set of IR-filters.
And then there were the inaccurate frame lines, the cropped sensor, the shitty LCD, the short battery life and the bad noise on high ISO. But there was also something good: a gorgeous CCD-sensor that delivered superb images when used at base ISO. And even better: the M8 stayed true to its roots: a simple camera with a rangefinder mechanism. Nothing more, nothing less.
When the M9 came out, many people rushed to the stores and for a couple of years, it was hard enough to get a camera. The M9 ‘corrected’ for most of the issues of the M8 and started to depreciate slowly, but steadily. The M8 remained popular with many users though and it seems that the last few years, it is becoming a true cult camera. As a matter of fact, I’ve seen less M8s on the occasion market every day.
Here’s why you should get one.
- The Leica M8 is the perfect entry into digital rangefinder photography. And if you already have an M9 or other M, the M8 will make for very nice back-up body. Why? Because it is cheap. Yes, I bought one for 1000 Euros a couple of months ago. I don’t think prices will drop any further, so this is the time to get one. If you don’t like it, you can sell it without any loss.
- The Leica M8 has ‘only’ 10,3 megapixel, which is an ideal size for everyday photography. It doesn’t clog your computer and hard drives like an M9 or M240 does and it is more than big enough for huge prints. In fact, I’ve got a 150x90cm print in my office that I shot with a 8,6 megapixel Canon 1D2 ten years ago. It’s full of detail. Just insert an 8Gb card and you can shoot for weeks.
- The Leica M8 is also called the ‘poor mans Monochrom’ and for a reason. The M8 is capable of delivering fantastic black and white images. Better than my M9 and M240. As long as you keep that ISO down.
- The Leica M8 has a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second. In bright sunlight, this is very convenient if you want to shoot your summicron wide open. If you buy the 8.2, of an upgraded version of the M8, you’ll get the slower shutter, which is also slightly more silent and has the reputation to be more reliable.
- Unlike the M9, you can buy the M8 in chrome and in black. With the M9, they switched to steel grey and black. After some complaining, Leica released the M9-P in true chrome again.
- The Leica M8 has a very sexy frame counter and battery indicator in the top plate. It’s not as precise as the info button on the M9, but it does the trick and you don’t have to press any button at all.
- Leica still repairs your M8 in case it gets broken. And some things will even be done under warranty.
- You can still get brand new batteries for the Leica M8, because it uses the same batteries the M-E does.
The best reason to get an M8 however isn’t in the list. It has been said too many times and it starts to sound like a cliche, but like most cliches, there is some truth in it. For me, a rangefinder camera is a different type of camera. The manual focus, the bright viewfinder without any blackouts, the fact that you can see beyond the frame lines and the size and weight of the camera. It’s not better than any other camera, but it is different. And if you happen to like a tool like this, you won’t ever regret getting the M8. If you need some help working your M8 (or other M), here’s a little help.
Here’s a little help when you’ve decided to get one.
Need faster and more accurate focussing skills for your Leica rangefinder? Check this.