It’s been quite some time since I took the Leica M8 with me on a photo trip. I shoot constantly with the Leica M7, mainly black and white film, but for digital the Sony NEX 5 and the Fuji X100 have been my main choices. Camera technology has gone a long way since the M8 introduced 5 years ago. There has also been an M9, a wonderful full frame digital rangefinder, but selling the M8 was not an option (the infrared ability of this camera is unique and I love infrared photography). Also, selling a film M camera is also not an option, I love film and the M7 is a true gem. So, the M9 remains out of my reach.
The main weakness of the M8 is its low ISO perfomance. Anything past 640 ISO doesn’t work for me and even at 640 noise is visible. So my 90% of my images are at base ISO (160). Even with fast lenses like the Voigtlander 35mm f1.4 and Nokton 50mm f1.1 there are situations where you need higher ISO. So, the Fuji X100 and Sony NEX prove to be more suitable all day cameras when I don’t want to carry much weight. The X100 has superb image quality but only one lens, while on the NEX I have to use my Leica and Voigtlander lenses to get the same IQ.
But (as it always happens!), every time I shoot with the Leica M8 and view the images, there’s something unique about them. The image quality of this 5 years old camera is extraordinary. The lack of AA filter combined with the CCD sensor creates razor sharp wonderful looking photos. The M8 filers are not crystal clear even at 160 ISO, they look more “filmic” and that’s a look I really like. Convert the image to black and white and you get the closer look to a film image than any other camera. If you plan to convert to b&w, then you can even shoot at 1250 ISO, push a little bit the blacks in post process and you get an image with noise that resembles film grain (of course you can’t really beat the original grain of a film like the TRI-X 400 or Delta 3200).
I love rangefinders and the M8 and M9 are the only available digital rangefinders today (together with the Epson RD1 of course). Composing through the wonderful viewfinder is a breeze, the ability to check what’s going on out of the frame is unique and although the frame lines are not 100% accurate you get to used to it.
The full manual control together with the simplest menu ever made, makes you feel that you really create an image rather than just take an image.
Now, rangefinders and full manual control aren’t for all people. Either you like it or hate it. For me, it’s my favorite type of camera and its a pity that there are no more options in the digital world (an Epson RD2 for example would be most welcome !)
The Leica M is considered to be one of the best street photography tools. I am not much into street or documentary photography these days, but I have also consider it a fantastic landscape camera. Easy to carry it with a few lenses, you don’t need a super duper tripod to hold it and a breeze to work with ND and infrared filters since they don’t make your viewfinder dark. The same goes for the orange and red filters I use when I shoot film. The only problem is a polarizer filter but in the digital world where you instantly preview your image, that’s also not a problem.
So, the Leica M8 is going to remain in my cameras arsenal for a long long time. A wonderful rangefinder camera whose limitations are acceptable and an undisputed superb image quality.
All images below were taken with the Leica M8 using the Elmarit 28mm f2.8 and Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 lenses. The panoramic images are crops of the originals (I have also done panoramic shots by stitching multiple frames with the M8, which I will present at a future post).
(c)2011 Konstantinos Besios. All rights reserved.