Unsolicited editorials on cameras, lenses, film, developer, and black and white photography in general.

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Leica M8 - First Impressions

It took me months to finally decide to get one of these cameras. I’m not that fond of digital, but the dearth of processing labs down here post-Katrina made shooting anything other than B&W silver halide impossible. What is there to say that hasn’t been said about the M8? Not much, so I’ll make it short.
  • It feels very much like a 35mm rangefinder – If you love to shoot with a rangefinder, you’ll warm up to this camera very quickly. It can probably best be described as a digital M7. You even take the bottom plate off to change the SD card. It is a bit deeper than a film rangefinder, but nothing noticeable.
  • It has a wonderful viewfinder, like all Leica M cameras.
  • It lacks most of the confusing razzle dazzle of digital cameras. No scene modes, no program modes, no irritating flashes popping up when you’re trying to be unnoticed in subdued light. It does have a histogram if you like that sort of thing. And it does have white balance settings. But I shoot everything in RAW mode and ignore that in-the-camera stuff.
  • You don’t have to find a comfortable easy chair somewhere to make changes in settings. There is a menu with some settings that I don’t fool with. And there is a “set” button that allows you to change ISO settings fairly quickly.
  • The sensor is fairly big, so the noise levels are similar to those with a good dSLR.
  • It writes to the SD card fairly quickly.
  • The noise of the motor cocking the shutter is relatively quiet. No sharp metallic sounds.

Are there problems?

  • It is fussy about the SD cards it uses. Unless you know one will work correctly in it, don’t buy one without consulting the PDF file of acceptable cards. I spent the first day and a half fiddling with all of my SD cards until I found one that worked. And don’t format the card on the computer. Format it only in the camera.
  • The spring under the battery is a bit springy. The first time I released a battery, it shot out and hit me in the lip.
  • The LCD is prone to scratching. I haven’t observed this but heard it from another M8 user.
  • The Leica strap is apparently not as secure as previous straps. Again, this was reported by another user who said the plastic locking cover broke off and his M8 disengaged from the split ring, falling to the ground.
  • There are lenses you absolutely should not use with it. Collapsible lenses are iffy, depending how deeply they collapse. Lenses with elements that project into the body are iffy. There are conflicting opinions of which you should and should not use. Yikes, even the 50/2 Summicron is on the hit list. Which version of 50/2 Summicron? I don’t know.
  • It’s hard to decide which lens to use. What?

Leica made a new and very expensive Tri-Elmar lens especially for the M8. However, I bought the M8 only because I already had a lot of M and LTM glass. With a relatively large but not 24x36mm sensor, all lens focal length have to be multiplied by 1.33 to get the equivalent focal length on the M8. Thus, a 28mm lens acts like a 37mm lens, a 35mm lens acts like a 47mm lens, and so on. Theoretically, that should be easy to adjust to, but part of my brain is telling me to put a 28mm lens on it, and part of my brain wants to put a 50mm lens on it. As a result, I almost have to carry just one lens, the one on the camera. If I carry more lenses, I keep futzing with them. A 28 is actually a pretty good choice. But you still get the distortion inherent in wide angle lenses and, unlike an SLR, this distortion doesn’t show up in the viewfinder.

Am I glad that I bought it? I probably won’t until the last payment has been made on my MasterCard. Until then, it just feels like a liability rather than an asset. And I still like film.

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