The Leica M8
A First Look Preview
By: Sean Reid
September 15, 2006
Leica has just announced their new digital rangefinder camera which is called the M8. It is probably the most important camera the company has introduced in many, many years and I'm happy to say that they've pulled it off quite successfully. Leica has been able to bring the M into the digital age while still preserving many of the essential characteristics that have made this series one of the most famous lines of small format cameras ever made. The M8 is very much a digital version of the M7. The new Leica is a little thicker, a touch taller and the same length as an M6 TTL. It weighs just a bit more than an M7 but almost exactly the same as an Epson R-D1 (when both have a card and battery installed). The M8's 10.3 MP sensor has a crop factor of 1.33 X compared to a 135 mm film camera. It's excellent finder is essentially straight out of the M7 except that it features a .68X magnification rather than .72X and includes frame lines for 24, 28, 35, 50, 75 and 90 mm lenses. With the M7, one removes the camera's bottom plate to load and unload film, with the M8 he or she removes the same sort of bottom plate to load and unload the SD card and battery.
I consider the M8 to be the most beautiful digital camera yet made. The front controls are even simpler than those of the M7 and include just a release button for the lens bayonet and the traditional frame line preview lever. The top of the camera is equally simple with just a shutter speed dial, a power switch (settings are off, single frame shutter mode, continuous shutter mode and self-timer) and a small round window on the left that shows frames remaining and battery level. On the rear of the camera is a large LCD screen, control wheel and play, delete, protect, info, set and menu buttons. Key settings such as white balance, resolution, compression, ISO (160 - 2500), and EV compensation are all controlled via one top-level menu that is accessed by pressing the "set" button. The camera is fast, records RAW files in DNG format, has a good-sized RAW buffer and comes bundled with Phase One's Capture One LE software.
Leica has asked all reviewers to refrain from discussing the camera's file quality until we're able to work with cameras using production-level firmware but I will at least say that the M8's files are not a disappointment. Also being introduced with the M8 is a new 16/18/21 F/4 Tri-Elmar lens (and a dedicated multi-finder) as well as a very compact new 28/2.8 Elmarit Aspherical. The first in my multi-part series of articles on the M8 is now on-line at http://www.reidreviews.com.
Sean Reid, an American, has been a commercial and fine art photographer for over twenty years. He studied under Stephen Shore and Ben Lifson and met occasionally with Helen Levitt. In the late 1980s he worked as an exhibition printer for Wendy Ewald and other fine art photographers. In 1989, he was awarded an artist-in-residence grant from the Irish Arts Council in Dublin, Ireland. His commercial work is primarily of architecture, weddings and special events. His personal work is primarily of people in public places. Having worked mostly with large format and rangefinder cameras for many years he now works primarily with Canon DSLRs and Epson R-D1s. Many of his newest reviews and other articles can be found at http://www.reidreviews.com.
Editor's Note: In this digital age, Sean is that rarity – a camera reviewer who is also a photographer. Most cameras these days are reviewed by technologist, and they do a fine job of dissecting the bits, so to speak. But Sean does more – he helps photographers to understand what a camera is like as a tool for taking photographs, and to this end he brings both experience as a fine art and commercial photographer, as well as a love for fine equipment and its uses.
His complete (and ongoing) review of the new Leica M8 is found on his web site, which you will see requires a subscription. In this age of "the internet is free", paying a premium for quality content is not that unusual, but should be accepted, otherwise dedicated and talented people like Sean might be unable to share their knowledge and expertise with us on an on-going basis.