Good day you war torn camera geeks! There have been few digital cameras that I return to again and again. The Leica M8 is one of the few that I still enjoy using. Today I would like to give you the pros and cons of this camera.
The Leica M8 was introduced in 2006 by Leica Camera AG of Germany. It is their first digital rangefinder model but not the world’s first digital rangefinder. The world’s first digital rangefinder is the Epson R-D1 introduced in 2004.
The M8 features a 10.3 megapixel sensor made by Kodak. The sensor is the model KAF-10500. The sensor is an APS-H sensor with a crop factor of 1.3x.
The M8 has a shutter speed of 1/8 to 1/8000 and has aperture priority and manual mode. The M8 was updated in 2008 with a newer model called the M8.2 which apparently has an improved and quieter shutter as well as more accurate frame lines and a sapphire lcd cover which is reportedly more scratch resistant. The M8.2 has a reduced top shutter of 1/4000.
For those of you who enjoy a more “dynamic” experience, here’s our accompanying YouTube video on the M8:
HOW I CAME ACROSS AN M8
As I’ve mentioned many times here, I was and to some degree still am a frequent reader of photography form threads (though not as much these days) but I’m more of a lurker than a contributor. I’ve learned a lot on these forums over the years going all the way back to the mid 1990s!
Part of the reason I don’t get involved in the threads is that there are so many knowledgeable posters there, what I am going to say to them? 🙂
I read, I digest, I research for myself if I’m especially interested in something and I find out for myself what the truth is.
And so ten years ago in 2010 my interest in the M8 was very high. The digital cameras from the year 2007 and up were really taking things up several notches. My main digital SLR at the time was the Nikon D3 which I loved but I kept reading all these great things about the M8.
Now the M9 had been introduced in the fall of 2009 but as is usually the case I almost never buy anything new and especially that pricey, so the M8 was really my only option for a digital Leica M. Never mind that I already had the Epson R-D1 since 2006! It was G.A.S. creeping in again 🙂
So I found what was a good deal at the time, a near new M8 for $2000 USD. I found it in an ad in one of the forums. I happened to have the money but as always I had to bite hard when anything is over $500! But I did bite and soon I was in possession of a beautiful silver/chrome M8.
Now it wasn’t really that I wanted the M8 in silver, though it looks very beautiful in this finish. I’d probably have done better with a black model which would be more stealthy for street photography. The choice of color didn’t have anything to do with my purchase. The lowest price did! Though I must say the M8 does look beautiful in silver/chrome but I don’t really want my camera to look like jewelry, especially if I’m going to use it.
HANDLING & IMPRESSIONS
My first impressions of the M8 back in 2010 was that it handled like an M camera. I had my M3 film camera for comparison and the M8, while definitely way more modern, did feel like a Leica M. The one big difference I felt right away was that the M8 felt quite a bit bulkier. The only film Leica M that feels this bulky is the M5.
The viewfinder is bright and easy to see. The frame lines for the lenses appear in pairs and are as follows: 24/35, 50/75, 28/90. This can be a bit confusing especially due to the 1.3x crop of the M8’s sensor so I’ll keep it short except to touch on a couple of things. A common question I hear is if you put a 50mm lens on the M8 does the 50mm frame line show up? Yes, the 50/75 frame line shows up and apparently they have been adjusted for the crop factor. The 50mm frame line would be the wider of the two (50/75) when looking through the viewfinder. And don’t forget that due to the 1.33x crop factor, a 50mm lens translate to a 66.5mm lens on the M8.
The M8 has a distinctive “clunk” to the shutter. And then you get a “whirr” from the shutter re-cocking. It is not silent but not disturbing to my ears. It is definitely not the soft shutter sound you hear on an M3, M6, or other film Leica M cameras.
To offset this, the M8 has a “discreet” mode that you can activate via menu. What happens in discreet mode is that the camera will not re-cock the shutter until your finger has lifted off the shutter release. This does help in quiet situations.
Here’s just a fraction of my favorite photos from the Leica M8 over the past ten years. Some photos have been lost but I had resized copies that were used on photo sharing sites such as Flickr so the quality on some may not be optimal and not truly indicative of the M8’s potential image quality.
LEICA M8 PROS & CONS
In my video, I gave viewers “3 For 3” which is 3 Pros offset by 3 Cons. Here on the blog I am listing a few more since I’m not restricted by time constraints as I am on the videos. So here, in no particular order, are my list of pros and cons for the Leica M8:
- In 2020/2021, the Leica M8 is the cheapest digital Leica M you can buy. Only on the used market of course! But the prices are trending at $1000-1600 USD.
- CCD Sensor. There has been a lot of debate over the years over the merits of the CCD vs CMOS sensor and I’m not the one to end that argument. What I will say is that the M8, with the right lenses, will produce images with “presence.” Images have a clarity and acuity that I have not seen in many digital cameras. Color images can have a “chrome” look of slide film and images can “pop” with the right lenses.
- The “Poor Man’s Monochrom:” Perhaps because of the CCD sensor and its lack of an AA filter, the M8 produces superb b&w images and has been labeled by its fans as the “Poor Man’s Monochrom.” The Leica Monochrom of course is Leica’s B&W only digital rangefinder. The original Monochrom was the 18mp version based off the M9 but there are newer models today.
- The M8 opens the door to the fascinating world of Leica M mount lenses. Not just from Leica, but you also get access to wonderful glass from Zeiss, Voigtlander, Canon LTM, and the wonderful low cost Russian lenses and there’s even more options if you look around.
- The 1.33X APS-H sensor is a good compromise between APS-C and Full Frame sensors. For street and portrait work, I actually find the 1.33x crop factor to be beneficial.
Here are the cons that are counterpoint to the pros above…
- In 2020/2021, the Leica M8 would be the oldest digital Leica M body. As anyone knows, even a few years is ancient for a digital camera, so that would make the M8 beyond ancient! However, it retains its value due to several factors which I’ll discuss later on. But buying a digital camera this old is risky, make no mistake about that. However, it’s a Leica and everyone that goes up for sale eventually sells. We’ll talk more about that later!
- CCD Sensor Limitations. The CCD sensor on the M8, while producing lovely images, has limitations inherent to CCD sensors in general. The M8 does not do well at higher ISO values. I generally keep the M8 at low ISO’s and ISO 640 is usually my “high iso” on this camera, although I have many images at ISO 800-1600 that I like. At ISO values higher than 400 on the M8, you risk more noise and sometimes banding in the images.
- Color Cast Issues. While the CCD sensor and the lack of AA filter make the M8 a terrific b&w camera, the con is that this sensor is near infrared and as such it does not produce completely accurate colors. There is potential for false color especially on dark cloth where for example a black dress would turn brown or purple on the M8. Indeed early on Leica recognized this and once offered IR cut filters for free (not anymore though!). That said, in most situations, the M8 can produce punchy colors that I find very appealing.
- As stated in the #4 “pro” the M8 opens the door to the wonderful world of Leica M lenses. However the “con” is that in 2020, the point is moot because these lenses can be adapted to almost any system, especially mirrorless systems.
- The 1.33X APS-H can be a negative for wide angle lovers and anyone who is bothered by the crop factor conversion. As I said I have no problems with it, but I totally understand why people would be bothered by that.
M8 VS M8.2
If you’re looking for an M8, the M8.2 is a newer variant of the same camera and was introduced in 2008. Main differences are an updated and supposedly quieter shutter on the M8.2, sapphire glass on the lcd for better scratch resistance on the M8.2, flash synch 1/250 (M8) vs 1/180 (M8.2) and a top shutter speed of 1/8000 for the M8 and 1/4000 for the M8.2.
Out of all those things the main thing that mattered to me was the top 1/8000th shutter speed on the original M8. I like using fast glass on the M8 and fast glass means bokeh so I wouldn’t want to lose the extra shutter speeds for those rare sunny day bokeh portraits. That said if I had the M8.2 I’m sure I’d be fine with it!
As with any digital camera nearly fifteen years old you should be concerned with the camera developing issues.
That said, I’ve never had any real issues with my M8. I’ve shot thousands of frames on it, used it for paid weddings and engagements. But keep in mind I was never a run and gun professional. If I were using the M8 during a paid shoot, it was always with another camera or two for those kind of shoots. I would never put thousands of photos a day on my M8 like I could with say a pro EOS 1 digital body even though the M8 is supposedly rated for 150K shots.
The main issue I saw in my ten years of using the M8 was that the battery could go flat fast in cold temperatures and that’s only happened within the past couple of years. I’m still on the original battery so take that into consideration!
Anything else like noise and/or banding is not a fault of the camera but inherent to its image quality. It IS after all a camera released in 2006 and probably designed way before that. Speaking of noise/banding, that is usually seen at the higher ISO settings and personally I’ve encountered noise but no so much banding.
The other issue I hear often in the M8 is a “coffee stain” effect that occurs randomly on the back LCD. The LCD develops a flaw and it looks something like a coffee stain on the LCD. In most cases it’s just an annoyance but nothing that gets in the way of you seeing the data or affects the picture taking abilities of the camera. Leica apparently does not fix it.
Lastly and best of all, the Leica M8 does not suffer from the infamous “Sensor Corrosion” issues that plagued the M9, the original Monochrom, nor the ME, all of which are based on the original M9 sensor.
That was a very serious issue that affected thousands of cameras and in my opinion put a stain on the M9 which was perhaps the most popular and iconic Leica Digital M up until that point. Leica originally replaced the sensors for free, and sometimes the replaced sensors ended up with the corrosion. It was a mess for Leica! Today, Leica claims to have ended the M9 sensor replacement program stating that there are no more M9 sensors to be had.
Be grateful the M8 did not suffer this issue!
IS THE M8 WORTH IT FOR 2020/2021?!
So here’s the question of the day! Is the Leica M8 still worth it in 2020 going into 2021? My personal opinion is an enthusiastic YES!! Yes, for me anyway! That is my catch 🙂
For you, if you really think you want to dip into a digital rangefinder, it is a great first step and it won’t kill your bank account like the $5000 digital Leica’s will!
Just keep in mind a few things; the M8 is nearly fifteen years on the market and things can go wrong with old digital cameras. The M8 offers no modern amenities such as focus peaking, 4k video, not even HD video. But you don’t need that! That’s why you got your Fuji, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Nikon Z, EOS R right? 🙂
The M8 offers a pure, no-frills shooting experience closer to film but with the conveniences of digital. That’s what you’d want it for!
The main thing you want to do when considering an M8 is to buy it from a trusted dealer. I’ll list some affiliates below but if you buy it from places like KEH, Adorama, B&H, Amazon, UsedPhotoPro, etc, anywhere that offers a lengthy warranty I think you’d be ok. But don’t blame me if something goes wrong 🙂
A camera like the M8 is not one I’d buy off some random guy on eBay. Too risky unless the price was beyond good, which would probably mean that something was wrong with it.
And in case you don’t like it, you can always sell it. I bought mine in 2010 for $2000 and they’re still selling used for $1000-1600. In fact, nearly every M8 that goes on sale from a legitimate dealer eventually sells!
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The Leica M8 is one of my all time favorite cameras, film or digital! In the ten years that I have owned the camera, it remains one of the few digital cameras from that era that I still use regularly, a camera I return to time and time again.
When the M8 was first released it seemed very much like an unfinished product. The color cast issues and the need for IR Cut filters to correct them, the noise at higher ISO settings, the 1.33x crop factor could have easily doomed a lesser camera. Yet in spite of all its shortcomings, the Leica M8 is still very much revered by a large cult of camera fanatics (myself included). And it all comes down to all that the Leica M8 does right; sharp files straight out of the camera, punchy vibrant colors reminiscent of chrome film, superb b&w possibilities and a pure rangefinder experience, as pure as you can get from a digital camera.
The Leica M8 is a digital Camera Legend. The fact that we are here nearly fifteen years later still talking about it, the fact that nearly every M8 that comes to market still sells says a lot about the camera and how highly regarded it is by its devoted group of enthusiastic users. If you have one, I’d love to hear about it! 😎📸👍🏻
WHERE TO BUY?
The Leica M8 is plentiful on the used market and as mentioned before prices are trending at $1000-1600 USD. The prices also apply to the M8.2.
My best advice is to buy it from a trusted dealer. Make sure they have at the very least a 30 day return policy/warranty although ideally a 90 or 180 day warranty will give you much more peace of mind.