Tuesday Titans: The Leica R8 (R9)

SLRCam

I might as well call this “Tuesday Night Titans” as a tribute to the old WWF (now WWE) rasslin’ show 🙂

The Leica R8 is a 35mm film SLR introduced by Leica in 1996. The R9 was introduced in 2002 and was the last film SLR made by Leica for their R series which was discontinued in 2009.

Although the R9 was marketed at the time as a new model, it is pretty much an upgraded R8. The bulk of this review is based on my extended use of the R8. R9 differences will be pointed out later on in this article.

While the R8 appears much like an autofocus camera, it is not. It’s an electronic camera that relies on batteries for everything, and it is pure manual focus.

THE LEICA R8 BODY

The Leica R8 (and R9) look radically different from any Leica single lens reflex before it. It is huge, it is massive, it is a TITAN!!

I remember reading about the R8 in one of those cool British photography magazines in the late 90s. I remember thinking it was huge and cool and even a little crazy. I never thought about getting one until I started picking up R lenses to use on my 5D in the mid 2000s.

After seeing how great these lenses were, I found a great deal on an R8 in 2008 and although I’ve sold off a whole load of stuff since then, I still hang on to the R8.

99388588-wrfjkuxc1

“Lots Of Love” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2.

The camera feels great in the hand. Heavy, robust, and well put together. The controls are definitely in the Leica bloodline, spartan and uncluttered.

The Mode dial is on the top left. It has all your usual modes, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, and a very unusual “F” flash metering mode. I could write about this, but it would take a whole half page and I’ve never used it. In a nutshell, the mode is used in conjunction with the camera’s pc socket and your flash which can be a dedicated flash unit or a number of studio strobes. You trigger the flash (or strobes) in “F” mode and it will help you determine flash exposure values which you can see on the back LCD without actually taking a shot, saving you from wasting film. At least that’s how I understand it.

On the top right of the camera is the shutter speed dial which runs from 16s to 1/8000th of a second. A good rule to remember when buying cameras is that any camera with 1/8000 means serious business even if 99 percent of the time we never use that shutter speed!

The 93 percent coverage viewfinder is bright and clear, but appears smaller and not as easy to focus as that on the older Leicaflex SL series. You probably would’ve expected 100 percent viewfinder coverage on a camera like this, and so did I.

RLMC

“Man In Black” 2015. Leica R8, 80mm f/1.4 Summilux-R, Tri-X 400 developed in Ilford ID-11 developer. My man Mr. Louis Mendes, NYC fixture, icon, and friend. I don’t know how many times I’ve photographed Lou over the years, but I never tire of it. Awesome guy, awesome photographer!

Funny thing, when I first got the R8 I felt as if I could never be sure if I had things in critical focus or not, having been spoiled by the SL viewfinder. I was a little obsessed about it to the point that I had even contacted several highly regarded Leica “people” including repair expert Don Goldberg (DAG) and famed Leica nature shooter Doug Herr. Both gentlemen were extremely helpful. However, in the end, I never did anything to the viewfinder.

My fears dissipated when roll after roll, 80-90 percent of the images were always in sharp focus, which is actually better than a lot of other manual focus bodies I have used.

“Baby Love” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2. Despite my fears, I was able to manually focus well enough on the R8 to get roll after roll of mostly sharp shots. The color cast is the result of a drug store scan, which I have not bothered to correct.

Don’t let me scare you though. What happened to me was that the images looked “in focus” in the R8 viewfinder, but it didn’t have a reassuring “snap” to it the way the SL did and that concerned me. I don’t know if the screen in my R8 is original stock, but it doesn’t have a split-image focusing screen in it, which always helps if you’re unsure.

But again, my fears were unwarranted so I no longer have issues focusing on the R8. Most of the time, if it looks in focus, it probably is.

treec

“Lonely Still” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2.

The shutter is well damped and smooth in its sound. Always a sign of a high quality camera.

ISSUES

In the first few years that the R8 was out on the market, there were numerous reports on reliability issues. Leica reportedly, at that time, fixed these issues free of charge.

All I can say is in the eight years I’ve had the camera, knock on wood, I never had a problem with it.

It is likely, but not certain, that if you buy one today and it’s in working condition, it’s probably fine.

If you’re worried about this, that’s one good reason to buy an R9 which apparently fixed everything. However, the R9 on the used market is a good $500 more than a used R8.

Here’s a good page on R8 ISSUES including suspected serial number ranges.

IS THE LEICA R8/R9 THE ULTIMATE LEICA CAMERA?

If Leica had not discontinued their R system bodies, lenses, and accessories, it is my opinion that the Leica R could stand out as the ultimate Leica film body, even when compared to their beloved rangefinders.

Whether you love it or hate it, it’s a standout body. There’s nothing in their film range of cameras that looks like it. I’ve compared a lot of these monstrous cameras to the Canon EOS-1, but I can’t even compare the R8 to that behemoth in its looks. It stands alone.

LeicaR8FlowerLFICrop

“Past Imperfect” 2010. Leica R8, 80mm f/1.4 Summilux, Tri-X.

I know people who think this camera is butt ugly, and I can’t remember if I was one of them, but what I can tell you is that most people who love the R8 end up loving it after they have held and used one.

To me now, it feels and looks awesome and it produces great results, roll after roll.

THE UNIQUE LEICA DIGITAL MODULE R (DMR)

The Leica R8 and R9 have the distinction of being the only 35mm film camera that could be converted to a digital body by replacing the film back with a digital back that Leica made called the “Digital Module R” otherwise known as the “DMR.”

The DMR used a 10mp Kodak CCD sensor and was highly praised by those lucky enough to use it. I was not one of them. They were and are always pricey and scarce on the used market.

At the dawn of the digital era, around 1996 or so, there were dreams of turning film cameras into digital. You may have remembered reading about this. If you forgot the main company pushing this idea at the time, they were called “Silicon Film.” Do a Google search if you’re interested.

Anyway, although it held great promise, the “digital film” concept never materialized in production.

To this date, only the only 35mm cameras that could be turned into digital are the R8 and R9 bodies, again, assuming you can find, or really want to buy a 10mp digital back for over $2000 used.

LENS COMPATABILITY

To further complicate things, the Leica R8/R9 are recommended to be used only with Leica 3-Cam or ROM lenses. The 1-CAM or 2-CAM lenses can damage the ROM contacts on the R8/R9 bodies. You can get these lenses converted to 3-CAM or ROM by a specialist. As a disclaimer, me being foolhardy and cheap, I’ve used 2-CAM lenses on the R8 with no issues, but I don’t recommend it and don’t blame me if you try this and it ruins your camera 🙂

LEICA R9 DIFFERENCES

The R9 is 100g lighter than the R8. The R9 has a special edition “Anthracite” model, in addition to the black model. The R9 has an LCD frame counter on the top plate, the R8 has the frame counter on the back LCD.

There were also some changes in the electronics, mainly to better support Metz’s flash units. Reliability is supposedly better with the R9. Do a little research on this if this interests or concerns you.

Overall though, they are pretty much the same camera.

BOTTOM LINE

The Leica R8/R9 were the climatic highlight of the Leica R System, a system which was never as popular as Leica’s own M System and a system which is now dead.

The R lenses were, in most cases, every bit as good as their M counterparts, but the R bodies were not. The R8 and R9 were said to be the only electronic R bodies which had nothing to do with Leica’s partnership with Minolta. But sadly, it’s too little, too late for the R system.

Ironically, digital photography and the popularity of adapted lenses have resurrected the R system lenses from the dead, at least on the used market and prices are dramatically higher than they were only a few years ago. I’m so glad I got my R lenses when the tide was low.

The R8 and R9 are eye-catchers in terms of looks, but more importantly, they are superb shooters which can produce fantastic results. Although they now belong to a technically dead system, the Leica R8 and R9 represented the pinnacle of Leica’s foray into the 35mm single lens reflex arena and they are true Camera Legends which serves to remind us of Leica’s past and gave us a glimpse into Leica’s future.

NOTE FOR POTENTIAL BUYERS

While I love the R8 and the R System lenses, I would not recommend you start with an R8 or R9 if its your first foray into this system. I certainly would not recommend the DMR unless you have money to burn.

The reasons are many…

It’s a dead system. I’m not sure if Leica will still repair the R8/R9. I’m pretty sure they don’t repair the DMR any longer.

The ability to adapt the R lenses to many, many systems including many full-frame systems negate the purpose of the DMR, which remains pricey on the used market.

If wanting to get your feet wet in the Leica R System, spending as little as you can, the all manual Leicaflex SL is a much better choice. No batteries necessary, better viewfinder, and cheaper. Body should be $100 or less. A good lens to start with is the 50mm f/2 Summicron-R and for the SL, you could probably find a 1-CAM version for around $300 or under. That’s the cheapest way to get into the Leica R System.

WHERE TO BUY?

If you really have your heart set on an R8 or R9, I can’t blame you after all the stuff I just wrote about it 🙂

Prices are trending at $350-500 for the R8 and $650-1000 or more for the R9. And for delicate electronic cameras you really should buy from a place with a good return warranty.

For a safe purchase try HERE and HERE in the USED section.

Happy hunting and if you do get one, please be sure to drop me a note, would sure love to hear about it!

***DEAL ALERT***

For those of you into more modern stuff, there are some great savings on Panasonic Gear.

Also if you’re an Olympus user, take advantage of the current Olympus Lens Rebates. There’s no better time to buy lenses for your OM-D or Pen series cameras.

Photo Of The Day: “Lost”

114443080.G37qNIS4.S2AFlowerIISmall

“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see” -John Newton. I’m not particularly religious, but I do think Amazing Grace is an amazing song. Shot with a Zenza Bronica S2A, 75mm f/2.8 Nikkor-P, Fuji Neopan 400 developed in T-Max developer.

Celebrating The Olympus Pen

PenFC

The Olympus Pen FT and Zuiko 38mm f/2.8 pancake lens.

With the release of the new Olympus Pen-F digital, I thought this would be a good time to celebrate the old Olympus Pen film series and the original “Digital Pen” the Olympus E-P1 🙂

Before we do that, just a few notes on the new Pen-F digital. It is a 20mp mirrorless camera in the Micro 4/3’s format. It has a built-in 5-axis image stabilizer in the body, much like the OM-D (which I love) series or the EP-5. 1080P HD Video. Nice touches include the electronic viewfinder (EVF), the 80/50mp (raw/jpeg) high-res mode, and customizable modes. There’s a lot more to it of course.

The funny thing is that when Olympus released the E-P1 in 2009, they marketed it as the new “Digital Pen” yet with this new Pen F, we are being told (as seen on the Dpreview video) that this is a whole new class of Pen cameras, and priced accordingly at $1199. Yeah, ok 🙂

OlympusC

“Decade Of Digital” From left, my first digital camera bought in 1999, the Olympus C-3000 Zoom and the Olympus E-P1 from 2009.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Olympus fan going way back. I’m sure the new Pen F digital will be awesome and just on the specs alone, it looks to be 1000 times better than the original E-P1, but I probably won’t be getting one any time soon. Not now anyway. Price is an issue, yes. Don’t have, and don’t want to shell out that much for a Micro 4/3’s camera.

And nothing against Olympus, but coming from the old film school, while I love the new Pen’s retro looks, I just see it as a digital camera dressed up in a film camera’s suit. Much like the Fuji X series, Nikon DF, or any number of cameras riding on the retro wave. This has been an enormously successful formula for many companies and more power to them. While I love the way they look, I’m just not as easily pulled in by it.

In addition, it’s really hard for me to get excited about the latest and greatest these days. The truth of the matter is that most of the cameras from the last five years (and going back even further actually) have been extremely capable.

I may sound a little less than enthusiastic, but I’m still young enough to realize that whether it looks like a film camera or not, whether I like the retro looks or not, learn to love it because (and my fellow film fanatics might not like this) let’s face it…This IS the “Digital Era.” Film may be around for a long time, who knows. But the “Film Era” has passed and it will never be the film era again.

But if you got the dough for the new Pen F, I’m sure it’s going to be an awesome new toy for you!

If you want to see all the new Olympus cameras, you can do so right HERE which is an easy link to everything. You can also pre-order there or here Olympus PEN-F if you want to be among the first to get one. My favorite might be that “Faux Leather” OM-D EM10 II!! 🙂

Below are some images from the Olympus Pen F and FT half-frame film cameras and the Olympus E-P1. I’ll dig up more if I can find them. I’ll keep shooting with these oldies until I can save enough for the new digital Pen F 🙂

12522944_10207474007440702_2584785228760462622_n

“Order & Chaos” 2009. Olympus Pen FT, Zuiko 38mm /2.8 pancake lens, Tri-X. These two sequential frames from the half-frame Pen FT shows how order can turn into chaos in a minute if Grandma is babysitting you 🙂

540628_3716236796857_375587103_n

“On Life & Love” 2010. Olympus Pen F, Zuiko 100mm f/3.5, Tri-X. As in life, love grows like the weeds, is full of hope and promise, but eventually grows old like last week’s bouquet of roses 🙂

531200_3410784400738_2009729031_n

“Beauty & The Beast” 2009. Olympus Pen FT, Zuiko 38mm f/1.8, Tri-X. Both a little scared, neither one prepared, beauty and the beast 🙂

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Aging In a Digital World” 2010. Olympus E-P1, Lumix 20mm f/1.7

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“RGB” 2010. Olympus E-P1, Lumix 20mm f/1.7, Brooklyn, NYC.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Sex & Religion” 2010. Olympus E-P1, Lumix 20mm f/1.7, Atlantic City, NJ. You might not be able to see it, but there’s a gentlemen’s club on the left and a church on the right. I’m still trying to figure out why WordPress is not letting me post larger pics.

120946458-1.c6ZnWIqs.EP1ZoeSamBuddies1.jpg

“Digital Buddies” 2009. Olympus E-P1, Lumix 20mm f/1.7 ASPH. Had a little fun with this one 🙂

Photo Of The Day: “Magic of Ramen Noodles”

 

“Magic Of Ramen Noodles” 2011. Minolta CLE with Canon 50mm f/1.5 Serenar ltm lens on Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in T-Max developer in 2011.

It might not be the best thing for you, but it sure feels good in the tummy 😀

Yes, it’s instant ramen, the ultimate poor man’s comfort food. Perfect for those times when you’re absolutely starving or when you have very little time to concoct a fine meal. Once the craving is satisfied, hunger is gone 🙂

Some Film Images Part I

No dear friends and readers, I have not run out of Camera Legends to profile for you. However, from time to time, I’d like to put up some images I’ve taken over the years, if only to remind myself that I still love photography and also so that readers of this site can see that I actually DO use the gear profiled 🙂

Like many of you out there, I really love cameras and lenses. But just as importantly, I love the equipment more if it helps me take a decent picture.

The photos below are a random sampling of the gear and the photos I’ve taken with them. Some of the cameras used to take these shots have been profiled. Some are previews of possible future postings.

They are not masterworks or anything. Many are from my attempts to learn or test equipment. Most were taken for just the pure joy of photography.

I thank you for taking a look. And not to worry, I have more great gear to profile and review for you coming soon 🙂

Note: Most of these images were posted elsewhere on the web years ago, long before I knew anything about WordPress. As such, some were resized to dimensions much smaller than I’d like to show you, but as I cannot find the originals at this time, this is what I can post. Sorry about that.

139139642.TI4xz9k1.MomDC

“Mom in DC” 1984. Kodak Disc Camera. This image represents one of my earliest attempts at photography, at least the ones I could find. Shot with the long defunct and defiled Kodak Disc Camera, a camera that was bashed by critics and consumers alike. However, I have to say, I really loved that camera and this image brings back a lot of memories.

80259812.xfdWo77e.JoeLit150Pba1

“Ghetto Blaster” 1985. Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. My brother and father with our Cutlass Supreme which we called the “Ghetto-Blaster” with its missing hubcap 🙂 Thirty one years in time, but I’ll be darned if that golden light on the print doesn’t still look as golden as the day I took this shot.




86420863.ICEBHFzI.CPhotogPBase

“Bangkok Bride” 2005. Olympus Stylus Epic, 35mm f/2.8, Kodak High Definition 400 film. Shot in Bangkok, Thailand.

80650042.mP0bUQUa.LotusPba

“Holy Petal” 1995. Contax G1, 28mm f/2.8 Zeiss Biogon, Fujichrome Velvia. Taken at a temple in Bangkok, Thailand.

80067916.oS3X1lKl.AddictOM1Pba

“Portrait Of An Addict” 1997. Olympus OM-1, Zuiko 50mm f/1.8, Kodak Tri-X. An attempt to self document one man’s horrible addiction to cigarettes. This photo was accepted to Flickr’s “Film Is Not Dead It Just Smells Funny” group, which is quite a selective bunch so I was honored by their acceptance of this pic.

72203117.MOYkwQ46.BMannequinsPbase1

“Mannequin Fantasy” 2006. Ricoh GR1, Fujicolor Press 800.

99388588.WRfjkUXc

“Lots Of Love” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2. I was honored that this image was profiled on Leica’s LFI “Analogue Masters” Gallery a few years ago.

130716115.ggt0qYRJ.3994821952_832dcc1cda_z1

“Rainy Day Blues” 2009. Leica CL, Canon 50mm f/1.2 LTM, Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in HC-110. I was sloppy and something went wrong with the development and I got the blues after seeing the ‘damaged’ roll . But since photography is such a subjective, sometimes emotional thing, I developed a liking for the look of some of the ‘ruined’ images.

995636_10204084737871081_7481577152814577026_n

“Masked Shooter” 2008. Contax RX, Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 lens. The man with the clandestine figure, the Masked Shooter, has probably shot nearly a thousand cameras 🙂




The Best Camera I Never Knew Part I: The Rollei Rolleimatic

SamRolleiFACBK

We can’t always have winners…

In the first post of this series, I take a look at cameras that I have come across, which may or may not be Camera Legends, but somehow they didn’t work out for me.

I’m sure there are cameras that many of you have used, that you heard a lot (or a little) about, you wanted them, and eventually got them, but for some reason or another they didn’t live up to your expectations.

First up is…

THE ROLLEI ROLLEIMATIC

The Rolleimatic is a uniquely designed camera introduced by Rollei around 1980, I believe. It was designed by the famous camera designer Heinz Waaske.

The camera features a 38mm f/2.8 Tessar type lens lens and relies on scale focusing.

The camera’s claim to fame is a rather odd design where the “flap” that covers the lens also doubles as a film advance mechanism.

The camera looked very cool to me, certainly stands out among point and shoot cameras of its era. I love anything retro, so at under a hundred bucks, I had to give it a try. With the legendary Rollei name, you would think this would be an instant winner. However, for me, it wasn’t.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME

Information on the Rolleimatic is scarce on the web. One great review I read was from a cool guy named Mike Elek, also a classic camera aficionado, and he stated that the camera is a little fidgety to load film.

Well, he was right and then some! I couldn’t get one roll of film to load in this camera! 🙂

Ok, so I thought…maybe there’s something I’m doing wrong. So I found the online manual, I tried and retried, and retried…couldn’t get a damn roll to stick in this camera.

Sometimes, I would get close and it would latch on for like two winds, then the film came loose and I’d have to start over again.

The problem is there is no “slit” in the film take-up like other cameras. Instead there is a “film like thingy” in there that you’re supposed to hook the film up to. I should’ve taken a picture of it, but the best way I could describe it is that the part looks like a piece of 35mm film, but stronger, and is removable. It has “teeth” that is wrapped around the film advance roller and you’re supposed to get your film under the “teeth.” Well, that I did, but it still didn’t work!

Being that he was the only person who seemed to know anything about this camera, I emailed Mike and he was kind enough to write me back. He even made a YouTube video to show how to load the film, what a good guy!

Anyway, despite all his help, I couldn’t do it. Maybe something was wrong with my particular camera.

The camera looked awesome cool, but all it gave me was a headache 🙂

BOTTOM LINE

The camera was sent back for a refund. I’ve been using film for more than thirty years, this was the first camera that I couldn’t load. I’m convinced that it was the ‘funkiness’ of the design 🙂

Mr. Waaske, God Rest His Soul, was a brilliant and creative camera designer. A Legend. I have nothing, but respect for his creations. However, sometimes being too creative might not be such a good thing.

If hunting for one of these, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices are trending at $50-160. So they are not expensive, but they do seem scarce.

The Rolleimatic is one of the Best Cameras I Never Knew. But it is not alone. There will be more to come 🙂

The Olympus Pen F/FT Series

The Olympus Pen FT with the 35mm f/2.8 Zuiko pancake lens.

Classic half-frame camera from the brilliant mind of legendary Olympus camera designer Yoshihisa Maitani.

The camera takes two frames on one 35mm frame. That’s why it’s called a “half-frame” camera. So on a 24 exposure roll, you get 48 shots.

You might be inclined to think that this would lead to inferior quality photos as compared to a full sized 35mm shot.

However, in my experience, the quality of the Zuiko lenses for the Pen F film system were so good that you really can’t tell the difference.

Mr. Maitaini was such a brilliant, brilliant camera designer and his Pen F/FT creation lives on in the Olympus Digital Pen series of cameras.

Note: Sorry this was meant to be a short post. I will be updating this with images from the Pen film cameras in the near future. Thanks for stopping by!