A few words about the Leica M8

The infrared saga continues, more IR photos for today’s post. It seems that during the last month I have taken as many infrared photos as I have the whole year !!

Today, I would like to write a few words about my infrared camera, the Leica M8, which of course was not designed to be an IR camera.

The Leica M8 was introduced about 6 years ago. I own mine for three years now (actually is the M8.2 model). During those years there has really been a revolution in digital photography equipment. Today we have models like the Nikon D800 (a 36mp camera with superb dynamic range, which challenges even the medium format cameras), the Canon 5D Mark III, and of course the mirorless cameras like the Olympus OM-D, Sony NEX and Panasonic GX1. All these cameras have features than we could only dream a few years ago, like fantastic image quality, six digit ISO, professional quality video and many other specs.

Also, we have the Leica M9, the smallest full frame digital camera in the world, and in a few months the M10 will be announced. If (according to the rumors) they choose a CMOS sensor, then it will have unrivaled image quality with (at last !!) high ISO performance.

So, where does all these leave the old M8 ? In my case, the M8 remains my first choice for digital photography (and I say digital, since I still shoot lots of film, and most times I will choose a film camera for my photo trips).

The CCD sensor of the M8 produces very special images, with subtle tones transition, unrivaled sharpness (due to the lack of the AA filter, but also the very thin IR filter on the sensor) and above all, it’s a genuine rangefinder. I am really hooked on rangefinder cameras, and the M series is of course the king of rangefinders. Even my medium format cameras are rangefinders (the Plaubel Makina 67 and Fuji GSW690iii).

Even today, it’s really hard to beat an M8 image at base ISO. Despite being only 10 megapixels, I can make wonderful large prints. The whole megapixels issue has really gone wild during the past years. For me, if I want to shoot tenths of megapixels I will just load a film on my 6×7 or 6×9 camera and I am done. The ability to crop and still have plenty of information is nice, but not my top priority, at least for my style of photography.

Even with its lousy ISO performance (you can’t really go above ISO 320 without seeing evident noise), the M8 still remains my tool of choice. Just mount a fast prime and you immediately gain 2 stops over the fastest zoom lens of a DSLR. For landscapes, street and travel photography, I don’t really need high ISO, so the M8 works fine for my needs. I even tried “replacing” the M8 with the Fuji X100 since 35mm is my favorite focal length, but after a few months, the X100 got sold. I enjoy shooting the Sony NEX for family and travel pictures (and for those rare times when I will need high ISO performance), but that’s about it.

Now, if you add to the equation the ability of the M8 to shoot IR images handheld, it makes it the perfect tool for me, and that’s a camera I will sure continue to use for many many years.

Is it a camera for everyone ? No, of course not, even in its glory days it wasn’t. A manual focus camera with lousy ISO and no automations at all is not a mainstream tool. Add to that the ridiculously high price of Leica cameras and lenses and you really have a product that is not logical to own (thank God for those wonderful Voigtlander lenses which are sold in normal prices !!). But after all, most things that makes us happy cannot really be confined in norms and rules…

Enjoy the images (taken with the Leica M8, Voigtlander 15mm and B+W 093 IR filter).

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(c)2012 Konstantinos Besios. All Rights Reserved.

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